These emails have shown up in spam folders or inboxes everywhere, their subject lines promising tens of thousands of dollars. They tell desperate-sounding stories of people losing their homes, their family and their valuables in unjust ways. It’s a scam! Here are 12 reasons you should care about the Nigerian prince scam.
The scam began as a postal scam during the corrupt years of the Second Nigerian Republic in the 1970s and 1980s, when political figures were being thrown out of office and there were whispers of rigged elections. Letters began to circulate from individuals claiming to be aristocrats and people of high status who’d lost their positions.
Scams such as the Nigerian prince scam have been happening for centuries. They make use of the prevailing communications technology, and have just transformed in appearance. Americans were perpetrating a similar scam through the mail called the Spanish prisoner scam, in which they were pretending to have been captured in the Spanish-American war and in need of money. The Spanish-American war was a conflict in 1898.
The scams make use of actual events. All have taken advantage of turbulent times. For example, one such scam existed after the French Revolution in the late 1700s. Aristocrats were having their homes and property taken from them, and faced imprisonment and execution. Individuals around the world began receiving letters from “French aristocrats” claiming to need a little money to help them regain their enormous wealth.
Some of the scam artists persuade people to travel to Nigeria to make the transactions called for in the scam. There, they don’t have to fear American authorities getting in the way. Some scam artists have taken people hostage who traveled to Nigeria, and demanded ransom from their families.
A researcher studying the Nigerian prince scam went to Internet cafes in parts of Africa and found individuals sending out Nigerian prince letters. Many of the people the researcher spoke to said they just needed money to take IT classes, or start a small business, but they didn’t think Americans would give them money to do such “normal” things.
Many of the people perpetuating these scams learned an advanced way to get people’s attention: they take over pre-existing ads. Rather than accessing email lists and sending out “cold call” emails, they hack other people’s accounts who are advertising houses for rent, or cars for sale. They respond to the people who reply to the ad with some arrangements such as, “Send a deposit of $700 and I’ll send you a key to the house you want to rent.”
Because a lot of people are ashamed to have bought into the scam, it’s underreported. By admitting to buying into a scam, person fear they would be admitting to engaging in fraudulent practice.
Around $5,000 — that’s the number that has been calculated to show how much each person loses who buys into the scam.
The typical sum that the scammers offer to put in someone’s bank account is around $40 million. They usually offer to leave around $1.5 million as a reward to the recipient.
One businessman tried to sue the criminal behind one of these scams, in order to get the $5 million-plus he’d been promised in the scam. So, in other words, he was trying to sue for bribery money.
Researchers speculate that the obvious spelling and grammatical errors in the scam letters are there for a reason: they weed out the skeptics. In theory, someone who replies to a letter with such obvious errors will be gullible enough to respond to the follow-up emails.
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