Nigeria's Online Scammers Pressing On Through The Economic Slump

cc-thief“We are working harder. The financial crisis is not making it easy for them over there,” said Banjo, 24, speaking about Americans, whose trust he has won and whose money he has stolen.

U.S. authorities say Americans lose hundreds of millions of dollars a year to cybercrime, with one of the biggest schemes known as the Nigerian 419 fraud. According to Nigerian scammers, Americans are the easiest prey for their schemes, and in the struggling economy, these victims are falling even more easily for their offers of riches. Americans are exercising less caution when they should be exercising more.

Statistics from the FBI-backed Internet Crime Complaint Center say that scam reports by Americans shot up 33 percent last year, and that after the United States and Britain, Nigeria housed the most perpetrators. The scammers are celebrated in Nigerian popular culture, and even have songs celebrating them. These men see their actions as a path to fortune and means to level the playing field and punish those seen as too greedy. They think of themselves as modern day Robin Hoods.

“I’m selling greed,” said Felix, 29, an e-mail swindler. “You didn’t apply for any lotto, and all of a sudden you just see an e- mail in your mailbox that you’re going to win money? That means you have to be greedy.”

The 419 e-mails are clinical and yet depressing in how they work and their effectiveness, with some promising wealth in the form of jewels and then requiring victims to wire “fees” to guarantee the deal, and others luring investors into venture opportunities that cost millions before they’re revealed as fake. These schemes take advantage of desperate people, and are very good at doing so.

Scammers use tools such as formats for letters and accounts that send e-mails in bulk. It is a lucrative field, and Felix claims he has made $30,000 in his best months and blows it on clothes and Don Perignon, though he complains about proceeds being down 40 percent with the economy. Apparently, he sees no connection between the greed he displays in his life as a scammer and the “greed” he is selling in his mail.

The problem of scamming began in the 1980′s when jobless young Nigerians were inspired by news reports about corrupt politicians funneling oil proceeds to foreign bank accounts. The Nigerian government insists that they crack down on 419 perpetrators and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission says these cases made up 45 percent of its prosecutions from 2003 to 2006. Scammers are frequently nailed in cybercafe raids.

Despite online victim support groups, the U.S. embassy, and bank and money-transfer-agency websites that display warnings about these scams, people continue to carelessly give out their financial information.

“There is another thing scammers always say in Nigeria,” Banjo said, “that every day, another maga (sucker) is born in America.”

(Via The Washington Post)

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