Thursday, June 29, 2006

Nigerian Scammer Scammed

Older than the Internet is the net's most famous con—the Nigerian Letter, or 419, scam. If you've been around long enough, you've probably received an e-mail or even a letter from someone, usually in Africa, informing you that, for one reason or another, there is an unclaimed fortune that is yours if you only pay a relatively small fee to transfer the money. When you pay the fee, of course, it ends up not being enough to get you the goods—there's always some snag and another transfer to make, each one probably larger than the last, until, at the very end, the deal just fades away, and eventually you realize there was no fortune in the first place. It's a version of the Spanish Prisoner con, which has been around for centuries. It works for a couple interlocking reasons: for starters you are shocked into submission by the promise of incredible wealth, and your eyes do that thing that sometimes happens in cartoons where they spin like slot machines and end on dollar signs, at which point you stop thinking clearly and would do just about anything for the payoff; and second they get you on the hook early with some nominal fee so that you develop a sense of investment in the enterprise, so that you want to believe it's true so much that you convince yourself it must be.

If there's one thing con movies teach us, it's that you have to be a little bit greedy yourself in order to get conned. That's why, in the end, the con men end up being the biggest marks. And that's why it feels so perfect when the good guys at 419 Eater are able to turn the tables on a Nigerian scammer (in this case from the Ivory Coast, but whatever) and get him to invest in their con:
Thank you very much for your very interesting email, however I am afraid that I will be unable to help you at this time. These next three months are by far the busiest and most profitable period for my company and I cannot give any time to anything other than finding new artwork for our galleries especially wooden carvings.

You may already know of me since it was you that contacted me. My name is Derek Trotter and I am the director of Derek Trotter Fine Arts & Artist Scholarships. We are dealers in fine art and ethnic art from all over the world. We run eight art galleries and two scholarship centres here in the UK. We also offer scholarship donations to aid up and coming new artists who may otherwise not have the financial means to be able to produce or improve upon their work. Our scholarship payments range from between $25,000 and $150,000 depending on the potential of the artist.

I am sorry but I am unable to enter into your business proposition at this time, however if you have any contacts in your part of the world who may be artists that you think may benefit from our financial help then I would be very interested to be put in touch with them. We are especially very keen on promoting new artists with experience in wood carving and will be happy to offer a very generous $25,000 to $150,000 scholarship package to young or old artists with good potential who may benefit from our help.
Of course it isn't long before the grifter, lured by the promise of the cash prize, is sending works like this:
And you won't believe how it ends. Link (via BoingBoing).

Indexed by tags crime, con, scam, Nigerian, letter, Spanish Prisoner, 419, wood carving, grift.
Image credits: Untitled, via 419 Eater, borrowed for news reporting and comment purposes.


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