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Why do Nigerian scammers say they are from Nigeria?

Nigerian scams deliberately target gullible people, according to research from Microsoft.

Image: Antonio Rosario via Flickr/Creative Commons

EMAIL SCAMMERS AIM TO look ridiculous in order to maximise profit, according to a new study by Cormac Herley, a researcher at Microsoft’s HQ in Washington State.

Tales of Ivorian finance ministers and Congolese princes with untapped bank accounts  might pass most people’s BS detectors, but that’s because Nigerian scammers are not interested in sounding believable, he says. Rather, they are looking for the most gullible victims.

In ‘Why do Nigerian scammers say they are from Nigeria?‘, Herley says that the scams work because they aim to “repel non-viable users.”

“If only 0.00001% of the population is viable then mistakenly attacking even a small portion ofthe 99.999% of the population that is non-viable destroys profit. The initial email is effectively the attacker’s classifier: it determines who responds, and thus who the scammer attacks (i.e., enters into email conversation with).

“An email with tales of fabulous amounts of money and West African corruption will strike all but the most gullible as bizarre,” he writes.

“It will be recognized and ignored by anyone who has been using the Internet long enough to have seen it several times. It will be figured out by anyone savvy enough to use a search engine [and] won’t be pursued by anyone who consults sensible family or fiends [that's Microsoft's typo], or who reads any of the advice banks and money transfer agencies make available.”

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“Those who remain are the scammers ideal targets,” he concludes.

Dubbed ’419′ scams after a section in Nigeria’s criminal code, the West African country has become synonymous with emails that promise large sums of money in exchange for an initial advance fee.

Successful scammers can make significant amounts of money. Two years ago, a Nigerian man received 12 years in prison after making $1.3m  over five years.

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