Twilight of the Yahoo-Yahoo Boys
January 22, 2012 12:13 PM   Subscribe

You may have never heard of them, but they definitely have your email address. They are the Yahoo-Yahoo Boys; the young Nigerian men who cut wide swaths of cash by preying on the naiveté of moneyed Westerners vis a vis their dreaded 419 emails. ...But if you check your spam folder right now you might notice that it is slightly lighter these days. That's because it's been a tough week for Nigeria’s most infamous internet enthusiasts. Due to the week-long strike action that took place in response to the government’s decision to remove a national fuel subsidy, it has become increasingly difficult for the Yahoos to extract funds from their “clients”. [...] The Yahoos' disposition towards #OccupyNigeria is also worth paying attention to because 419 culture is essentially a street-level microcosm of the institutional corruption that has plagued Nigeria for the past forty years. And although the Yahoos are often blamed for distorting Nigeria’s image abroad, they've also become part of the cultural fabric.
posted by infini (26 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I am looking forward to hearing from you in this respect as soon as you receive this e-mail.
posted by Fizz at 12:15 PM on January 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's really interesting, infini. I'd always wondered how these scams came into being and became so popular. It's hard to believe anyone ever fell for them in the first place.

It's a strange correlation, the oil embargo being lifted leading to the, "Please send money to get more money," 419 scam. I don't really know what we could do to help the situation, other than putting a new embargo in place, which is still no guarantee that Nigerians who went this route would decide to go back to agricultural pursuits.

In fact, I highly doubt that would be the outcome, unless farming could be shown to be more profitable...which brings me back, again, to the question of "Who is (still) falling for these scams?"
posted by misha at 12:24 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why are 419 e-mails so bad? Why do they have names that sound obviously made up, like Ford Prefect or Toblerone Gloweave? Why don't their names match from the e-mail address, to the introduction, to their signature? Why can't they watch a half hour of The Office to learn how somebody working for a UK financial services firm on behalf of a client who has the same surname as me might actually speak, instead of sending me something that sounds like Apu from The Simpsons put through multiple rounds of Google Translate? Put a little bit of effort into quality control, you sad fuckers. Where's your professional pride? Where's the tradecraft?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:30 PM on January 22, 2012 [16 favorites]


(Having said that, the letters I receive from Harvard Business Review, plastered with fake stickers and stamps and authorisation numbers, urgently pressing me to take advantage of this once in a thousand lifetimes subscription offer, are about as sophisticated...)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:34 PM on January 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


You can learn a lot about 419 scammers and their methods browsing the 419 Eater forum (regardless of whether you agree with scambaiting or not).
posted by Gordafarin at 12:35 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've asked numerous scammers if they will sell me a kidney and several of them have responded back asking for money for logistical costs of locating one.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:37 PM on January 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've never been able to enjoy a good laugh at the 419 Eaters. It's not like I think the Yahoo-Yahoo Boys are lovable rogues or anything -- they're scammers, they won't stop at violence -- but the whole business is just so wretched, it's like pulling wings from flies (even if the flies did want to lay eggs in your food).

I wonder if there's a Nollywood movie in English about the business. I love Nollywood.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:39 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Weird.

My dad is actually in Nigeria at the moment, for a funeral (his father, my grandfather - who I'd never met, died). Not only that, but a couple weeks ago, I tried to wire him some money and he wasn't able to pick it up because of this strike. Strange to see it on the blue.

Anyway, not everyone in Nigeria is a 419 scammer.
posted by delmoi at 12:51 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


That post did a better job of answering the question of why this massive wave of email scams came out of Nigeria in particular, and not some other place, or from a bunch of places at once. It's fascinating to think about what it is about Nigeria that allowed this phenomenon to grow and thrive there. I still don't really get it, though -- plenty of other places suffer the combination of corrupt government, too much money in the hands of too few people, and a large class of frustrated, educated young people with thwarted ambitions and nothing useful to do.

I just read an enjoyable novel set in this piece of the world: I Do Not Come to You By Chance.

Has anyone published a collection of the 419 letters? Setting aside their wicked intent and nasty consequences, I think they're hilarious and brilliant. If only all that creativity and drive could be directed more constructively. Sometimes the thought of projects like A-Laptop-For-Every-Child scares me speechless. I can't even begin to imagine the things they'll get up to, billions of clever little mischief makers....
posted by Corvid at 12:58 PM on January 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Eh, I don't have much sympathy for them. Lots of other people manage to exist in poverty without turning to prey on others, and it's not like they stop when they meet their basic needs - they'll continue to bleed money from targets even when they become quiet wealthy. They'll also go after the poor as quickly as the rich, even convincing their victims to borrow money.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:02 PM on January 22, 2012


Toblerone Gloweave

Found my new sockpuppet account name.
posted by Mikey-San at 1:02 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


That post did a better job of answering the question of why this massive wave of email scams came out of Nigeria in particular, and not some other place, or from a bunch of places at once. It's fascinating to think about what it is about Nigeria that allowed this phenomenon to grow and thrive there. I still don't really get it, though -- plenty of other places suffer the combination of corrupt government
Keep in mind it's the largest country in Africa, 158 million people, the 7th largest in the world after Pakistan at 6 and Brazil at #7. The next largest African country is Ethiopia with just a bit more then half as many people, and the second largest west African country is Côte d'Ivoire with just 20 million people. Nigeria has lots of oil money, so you probably had lots of people could afford computers.

The other thing, this does happen in lots of other countries as well, certainly today. It's just that it started in Nigeria first and became "associated" with it, plus the size means that if something is happening in a lot of countries like Nigeria, obviously it's going to happen a lot in Nigeria.
posted by delmoi at 1:05 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's really Leon Sumbitches.
posted by entropone at 1:08 PM on January 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Why can't they watch a half hour of The Office to learn how somebody working for a UK financial services firm on behalf of a client who has the same surname as me might actually speak...

Because that would be an obvious copy of the real Tim Canterbury, who has had financial difficulties lately, and who, when he becomes solvent, will be generous enough to pay me 75% interest on the loans I have given him and his parents.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:15 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much of the blame ought lie at the feet of Western Union and similar entities. It is a very common thing for people working outside of their countries of origin to send money home to their families, especially where the relative exchange rate is so beneficial, and there are always situations like Delmoi´s where a visitor or tourist needs to be sent money, however I wonder what proportion of the overall "send money more or less anonymously to nebulous recipients without hope of refund" business is the result of fraud.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:42 PM on January 22, 2012


I wonder how much of the blame ought lie at the feet of Western Union and similar entities.

nope. thats like blaming the internet for porn.
posted by Abinadab at 1:55 PM on January 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


They're facing increasing competition from China according to the article. and my spam folder apparently, just today I received this:

I am Mrs Teresa Au, HSBC Hong Kong, head of corporate
sustainability Asia pacific region. A sum of US$23,200,000.00
Million was deposited by our Late customer who died without
declaring any next of kin before his death in 2006.My suggestion to
you is to stand as the next of kin to Fadel Ahmed.We shall share in
the ratio of 50% for me, 50% for you. Please contact me via this

posted by infini at 1:58 PM on January 22, 2012


The lead character in Lauren Beukes' Zoo City has a side job composing new 419 content for mobsters. I remember when I was in grad school, 1998 or so, my advisor got a 419 scam letter by snail mail.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 2:21 PM on January 22, 2012


Why are 419 e-mails so bad? Why do they have names that sound obviously made up, like Ford Prefect or Toblerone Gloweave? Why don't their names match from the e-mail address, to the introduction, to their signature?

I've wondered how I could apply my skill as an English teacher to this phenomena. It seems so straightforward, just a few tips and tricks - capitalization, formal register, some better edited templates, a convincing email footer - could probably increase credibility substantially. But I guess the model they've got works.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:18 PM on January 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Obligatory
posted by R. Schlock at 5:07 PM on January 22, 2012


You wonder, however, how easy it will be to separate 419 scam e-mail from regular ones not just as the scammers get more sophisticated, but as average Anglo-American literacy declines, as I've seen in newspaper comments, Twitter, etc.

You Mefites are all pretty damn literate. I'm talking about things like misplaced caps, which many newspaper commenters seem to regard as the equivalent of italics, especially for big-gun issues like Economics (sic). They make me wonder if their original language is German or if they wandered through a time warp from the Revolutionary War period.
posted by bad grammar at 6:32 PM on January 22, 2012


419 emails to me are like lotto tickets. I know they're scams, but some small corner of my brain, the same part that worries about making mortgage payments, sees the huge windfall and whispers "what if this one isn't fake?" As shown in books like The Big Con, the key to any of these scams is to get the sucker involved in something unethical, which all 419 scams are. Still...if it came down to a genuine opportunity to pocket $xx,xxx,xxx for sneaking a dictator's wealth out of his bank account, well, I'd like to think I'd say no but...who knows?

It would be interesting to discover who the most common victims are, by socioeconomic classes and the like. Do dumb rich people fall for them as often as dumb poor people?
posted by maxwelton at 8:27 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess the author of this email hadn't heard of OBT (Obtain By Trick), which was the immediate predecessor of 419. What you also won't learn from this article is that by and large, Nigerian were among the biggest victims of 419 scams. Back when it was OBT, there were no emails, no faxes. Just folks who sold you a bridge in Siberia. Folks got wise and then these guys started trying their luck overseas instead. The current yahoo yahoo boys aren't even close to being as sophisticated or as smart as the guys who did this back in the days.
posted by RedShrek at 5:37 AM on January 23, 2012


The grammar and syntax in the 419 letters (and most the V1@gra spam, etc) doesn't have to be better than it is because a significant share of the targets and victims are not-native English speakers, or from countries like Nigeria where there's a significant variation from standard English, so the flaws that are obvious to us are less evident and intrusive. It may even add to the stickiness and effectiveness of the email, like hearing a foreign language spoken with the same accent as yours can be easier to understand than native speakers.

(At least that's always been my theory.)
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 5:56 AM on January 23, 2012


Oh and, to second RedShrek about Nigerians being victims of the scams. Last time I was there, down in Oerri, it seemed like every other building had a huge spray painted warning "THIS BUILDING IS NOT FOR SALE." I seem to remember that some were explicit about saying "NO 419" but could be wrong.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 6:00 AM on January 23, 2012


Extended to that context, scam and fraud is almost as old as time, if Loki and other Tricksters are anything to go by. The multiple owners of a single plot of land shows up across most of the world where deeds and contract litigation etc are weaker elements of inadequate systems.
posted by infini at 8:09 AM on January 23, 2012


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