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Why do scammers say they are from Nigeria?
June 20, 2012 1:57 PM   Subscribe

Why Do Online Scammers Say They Are From Nigeria? A research paper from Microsoft argues it's a method of weeding out the savvy [via Slate].

Far-fetched tales of West African riches strike most as comical. Our analysis suggests that is an advantage to the attacker, not a disadvantage. Since his attack has a low density of victims the Nigerian scammer has an over-riding need to reduce false positives. By sending an email that repels all but the most gullible the scammer gets the most promising marks to self-select, and tilts the true to false positive ratio in his favor.
posted by modernnomad (39 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Because saying you're from Wallstreet is a bit predictable.
posted by Fizz at 2:13 PM on June 20, 2012 [9 favorites]



Because saying you're from Wallstreet is a bit predictable.


Yeah but at least it works.
posted by dazed_one at 2:14 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I thought it was because, at the end of the scam, eventually they're going to ask you to send money to Nigeria. If they've been saying all along that they're in France, it's going to be very conspicuous when an African country suddenly appears in the correspondence.
posted by Clandestine Outlawry at 2:15 PM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


I saw this right after a discussion about how scammers on Steam will intentionally use bad grammar so they don't have to invest too much time on savvy marks. It was neat because it's one of those things which remind you that apparently incompetent behavior may actually be well reasoned.

It also explains why the scammers on the other side of 419eater.com actually follow through; for the most part, the marks that go that far with them are the ones which are left after everyone else self-selects out.

I wonder if there's something similar for cults.
posted by postcommunism at 2:15 PM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Because a lot of them are actually in Nigeria?

This is the No True Scammer logical fallacy, right? Or is it No True Nigerian?
posted by spitbull at 2:22 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I figured it was A/B testing. (And basically I was right.)
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 2:24 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh. Well, when you put it like that, it actually makes sense. Huh.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:26 PM on June 20, 2012


I believe this, and I believe it has analogues in other domains. A while back I had a boss who was pretty sleazy (to give you an idea, a used car dealer called him "slippery") and preyed on lower-income folks in a common but legal way decried by consumer advocates. Anyway, I was doing IT work for him and kept suggesting ways to use his website and technology in his office to present a more classy, upscale experience for his customers, but it eventually dawned on me that he preferred his office with no official lobby area and papers (including private customer data!) scattered in piles everywhere. I mean, he was a bit messy and disorganized and dressed like a slob, but this actually worked for him as a presentation style -- I assume for much the same reasons.
posted by dhartung at 2:26 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Because a lot of them are actually in Nigeria?


If you read the pdf, the point is that a lot of scammers who AREN'T in Nigeria have actually taken to saying they are from Nigeria, and the research paper is an attempt to explain why.
posted by modernnomad at 2:34 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Nigeria is where I can make you a Viking.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:44 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Interesting. I'm fascinated by the way organized crime has so seamlessly integrated efficient business practices into their model. Nowadays, even Columbian drug lords have MBAs. (Talk about a versatile degree.)
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:47 PM on June 20, 2012


I've been getting spam from this one guy who says he lives in Bangladesh .. like one or two a day, every day, for more than a year. Clearly he's not only persistent, he's not at all concerned about weeding out the savvy.
posted by crunchland at 2:52 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I believe this, and I believe it has analogues in other domains.

It does. The one that immediately springs to mind is amateur porn. I know someone who has gone through five redesigns in 15 years, only to revert them all to something very close to the original home made version of her site, because each time she makes it even slightly more professional looking, signups fall through the basement, she gets complaint letters, and renewals die on their arse. It's fascinating.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:52 PM on June 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


Because no self-respecting scammer would admit to being from Uzbekistan?
posted by Thorzdad at 2:53 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder if there's something similar for cults.
I misread cults as cats, and thought you might be on to something.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:55 PM on June 20, 2012


I was wondering about this today, and actually asked a scammer calling from "Microsoft Windows Security Center" about it (he hung up and didn't answer my question). Anyway, I was called by one of those scams that try to get you to download a software package so they can assume remote control of your computer.

I played along (not the best use of my time, I know) but a) the guy's English pronunciation was so terrible and b) there were so many steps involved (eg, he recited a number that he wanted me to write down and then recite back to him) that I broke the 4th Wall and asked him: what is your conversion rate for this scam? How many people do you have to call before you get the desired behaviour?

I mentioned that this time around the process was so convoluted that I couldn't see how he could possibly get anyone to sign up, and I suggested he simplify the funnel to optimize his time spent on lead generation.

I hung up.

Surprisingly, though, the bastard phoned me back, and I had to explain to him that he was engaging in harassing behavior. And then I hung up again.

The telephone number was 510-943-3040, obviously spoofed, and too bad it's so easy to do.

However, just what is motivating these guys to sit in a room day after day and engage in such a convoluted, un-optimized process? Are they dumb? Am I dumb, and am just not getting it?
posted by KokuRyu at 2:58 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hello I am a Nigerian MeFite, and I have a fortune in favorites locked away in another account. I just need a deposit of 100 favorites to access this treasure trove. If you can put up that deposit, I will be happy to split the mother lode with you. What do you say, friend?


monkey elephant SCHNOZZweasel V 1 4 G 4 R 4
posted by Salvor Hardin at 3:01 PM on June 20, 2012 [41 favorites]


spitbull: “Because a lot of them are actually in Nigeria?”

And, er, you believe that by their high valuation of honesty they are usually driven to tell the truth about where they are?
posted by koeselitz at 3:09 PM on June 20, 2012


The one that immediately springs to mind is amateur porn. I know someone who has gone through five redesigns in 15 years, only to revert them all to something very close to the original home made version of her site, because each time she makes it even slightly more professional looking, signups fall through the basement, she gets complaint letters, and renewals die on their arse. It's fascinating.

I'm not sure that's the same thing, unless the amateur porn in question is actually professional porn masquerading as amateur. In that case then, yes, it probably is the same principle at work: once the site looks too professional people start to become more suspicious about whether or not the porn is actually amateur and sign-ups drop off as even the least savvy of pornophiles start to catch on to the gimmick.

If it's legitimately amateur porn then, well, the same basic thing is probably happening but it's a slightly different psychology at work.
posted by asnider at 3:27 PM on June 20, 2012


Good morning fellow MeFites! I present to you a wonderful opportunity - for every favourite you grant me to use at my discretion I will guarantee you a return on investment of THREE favourites within a period of 1 week! You can't possibly lose out here!
posted by fearnothing at 3:27 PM on June 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


apparently incompetent behavior may actually be well reasoned.

This is colloquially referred to as "playing dumb."
posted by longsleeves at 3:50 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure that's the same thing, unless the amateur porn in question is actually professional porn masquerading as amateur.

I've become unclear on the division as the industry has matured, but I would call it indie pro porn. She makes her living on her self-named sites, and all her content is produced in-house, sometimes with guest photographers. Certainly it is paid for pornography.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:50 PM on June 20, 2012


Oooh is this the bit where we link to our scambaiting? This one entertained me for several weeks of quiet moments at work.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:57 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


If they've been saying all along that they're in France, it's going to be very conspicuous when an African country suddenly appears in the correspondence.

How many Americans would actually know the difference ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 4:17 PM on June 20, 2012


However, just what is motivating these guys to sit in a room day after day and engage in such a convoluted, un-optimized process?

I remember reading at article many years ago that talked about how complicated Publisher's ClearingHouse entry forms were, with multiple stickers and things to fill out and whatnot. Apparently they found more people actually returned the forms when they were more complicated than when they were simpler, though I don't recall the theories about why that was.
posted by not that girl at 4:22 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wonder if there's something similar for cults.

I've seen some Scientology books, and overheard some goofball conversations between scientologists, and always assumed that's what the particular cult lingo was designed to do.
posted by univac at 4:40 PM on June 20, 2012


They might well originally have been from Nigeria - when, in the 90s, a friend of mine got a 419 through the post (which I proved was a scam using the then-young World Wide Web, along with the fact that it was obviously a scam), research suggested that Nigeria was unusually kleptocratic. Not just West Africa, but there was something particular about Nigerian society, where a lot of the bonds of trust had completely broken down from top to bottom during military dictatorship. Apparantly. I think things have changed a lot since the return of democracy, though.

Local banks and building societies were having similar problems with Nigerians at the same time (as opposed to Ghanaians or Sierra Leonians).

Or maybe I just read things that were written by racists who hated Nigerians, I don't know. It seemed to make sense at the time.
posted by Grangousier at 4:48 PM on June 20, 2012


Actually, I have noticed the "large sum of money I need to move out of the country" spam gets ever more geographically diverse as the years go by.
posted by spitbull at 4:53 PM on June 20, 2012


>This is colloquially referred to as "playing dumb."

Nah, that's a different kind of well reasoned incompetence. Playing dumb is trying to make someone underestimate you in which undercuts or can be used to undercut them. This is self-presentation used to make your "market" do the work of identifying themselves. It's obvious once you point it out, but for me at least it wasn't obvious at all in this context until someone else did the pointing.
posted by postcommunism at 5:03 PM on June 20, 2012


Yes, it seems they are probably in India (4,362 in the last ten minutes [06/21/12 03:03], only 70 in Nigeria).
posted by unliteral at 6:05 PM on June 20, 2012


Actually, I have noticed the "large sum of money I need to move out of the country" spam gets ever more geographically diverse as the years go by.

Yup. I've recently seen emails claiming to be from Egypt and Libya after the uprisings about taking funds out of there. I've seen emails claiming to be from China and Russia as well, though I don't recall the trigger events. Oh, and British lotteries, for some reason, seem to be popular also (the winner can't claim the funds, for some reason - like buying the ticket without realizing that you had to be a resident/citizen etc.).
posted by vidur at 7:15 PM on June 20, 2012


This is similar to that guy who hits on women in the street in the most shameless, classless way possible. You figure that no self-respecting women would give him the time of day. And you're right. But he's not looking for self-respecting women, quite the opposite in fact.
posted by xigxag at 8:43 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


The one that immediately springs to mind is amateur porn. I know someone who has gone through five redesigns in 15 years, only to revert them all to something very close to the original home made version of her site, because each time she makes it even slightly more professional looking, signups fall through the basement, she gets complaint letters, and renewals die on their arse.

I don't see the connection. Those customers know the difference between amateur and professional sites, and they prefer something that looks amateur. They're acting like normal, rational consumers — just like people who choose to buy music that's produced in a homemade style and has amateurish album covers to match. The people who fall for the Nigeria scam don't have a preference for giving money to Nigeria — they're just oblivious to the Nigeria scam.
posted by John Cohen at 10:03 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


However, just what is motivating these guys to sit in a room day after day and engage in such a convoluted, un-optimized process? Are they dumb? Am I dumb, and am just not getting it?
posted by KokuRyu

I once agreed to a survey about allergies. They asked me two questions about allergies followed by a question about my credit card. I asked them to repeat the question a few times and hung up, but maybe that works on some people.

A friend of mine worked for a survey company and he said their script often had a couple questions at the start that they didn't need to write down the answers for.

I think there's an element of giving you a couple innocuous requests, just to get you in the habit of going along with it. You get this thing with panhandlers sometimes, they'll ask for the time or directions first, rather than straight up asking for money.
posted by RobotHero at 11:27 PM on June 20, 2012


A hundred years ago the scam was being played from Spain to gullible Americans. Because of the history of the scam, I doubt Microsoft's assertions.
posted by JJ86 at 7:20 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


See also, Spanish Prisoner.
posted by JJ86 at 7:22 AM on June 21, 2012


dhartung: "I believe this, and I believe it has analogues in other domains."

Wal-Mart used to have the cheapest, hokiest commercials on television (aside from local businesses), and I used to wonder why one of the largest corporations in the world couldn't be bothered to spend money on their commercials. I assumed for a while that it was a sort of hubris, like they didn't think they needed to spend money on advertising because everyone already had to shop at their store. It turns out that it was a conscious strategy that had been completely thought out. When they had commercials that seemed pathetically cheap, people tended to unconsciously assume that it was because they were passing along every possible bit of savings, whereas the cost of glitzy ad campaigns like Target's meant everything there was a little bit more expensive.

Of course, none of that assumption is true and any money Wal-Mart saved on advertising was money it kept for itself. I just found it fascinating that projecting the appearance of being a cheaply-run company could mean a concrete advantage.
posted by Copronymus at 10:13 PM on June 21, 2012


I don't know if anyone else remembers this anymore, but from 1992 to 2000, the US Federal Aviation Administration posted warning signs in all US international airports advising travelers that security conditions at the international airport in Lagos, Nigeria did not meet security standards.

I never knew what to do with that information back then. But it probably made me more suspicious of Nigeria than someone who never flew.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:44 AM on June 22, 2012


Because of the history of the scam, I doubt Microsoft's assertions.

I don't think you understand Microsoft's assertions. They have nothing to do with Nigeria qua Nigeria and everything to do with "this scam sounds just like all the others". If everyone else were doing the scam from Spain, then you doing the scam from Spain is also a good idea (is MS's assertion).
posted by DU at 4:44 AM on June 25, 2012


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