*I’m rich. I mean, loaded. What I’ve amassed over the last decade or so goes into the many millions. Perhaps even billions; hell, I’ve lost count. You know what they say-–once you get past the first 200 mil or so, it all becomes a blur.
Problem is, all my cash is trapped in an international slough of questionable financial institutions, shady corporations, shifty organizations and any number of entities and people I don’t know from Adam.
Okay. I don’t have any of that money. It doesn’t exist. The estimate I mentioned earlier is a rough total of all the money I’ve been offered in Nigerian scam emails.
My email address has got to be on a “potential sucker”’s list tacked to the bulletin board of every Internet café in downtown Lagos. Name a wacky con game and it most likely has found its way into my inbox. Like the elderly Israeli socialite on her DEAF (sic) BED who, out of the blue, willed me $50 million.
I’ve been contacted by barristers (I didn’t know that word–British term for lawyer–until the spam) the world over, representing clients bent on cutting an absolute stranger in on millions of dollars out of the sheer goodness of their hearts.
In every situation, all that is needed, no matter how long it takes them to get to the point, is my bank account or credit card number. You know–-so they can transfer all that moolah into my account.
The scams aren’t always about inheriting money. Occasionally, an Internet carrier will inform me that if I want to continue online, I need to resubmit my billing info. Matters not that I’ve never subscribed to that particular service.
Then there was the poor African child languishing in a Canadian hospital who was to die within 48 hours if I didn’t contribute something toward the surgery but who miraculously managed to cling to life at the scammer’s discretion for another couple months, until it was absolutely clear I wasn’t sending any money.
I recognize scam mail before I open it. Look for the sentence in the email message box that is almost always followed by a period (.). I’m amused by the grammar and spelling-challenged humility: HELLO, PLEASE KINDE HONERABLE MISTER FRIEND SIR. Then they get to the nutty proposition.
Forget years of college and training; did you know you can become an agent in the FBI–-Federl Buearu of Investition (sic)-–by merely submitting a bank account number online? It’s always about those precious digits. Always about dough.
To prove the authenticity of a shenanigan, scam emails sometimes feature links to legitimate news stories. The man featured in the obituary did die in a plane crash. However, the email offering me half his multimillion dollar fortune is not from his family, but some no-budget carpet bagger hustling financial info.
While my spam filter catches most of the crud, there is a reason I still probably get more scam email than other people: Sometimes, I answer them. I know. But If I’m having a bad day, the first Nigerian email in my box becomes my whipping boy.
I’ll curse them and their insipid, insulting transparent approach, only to get a response like this actual email: DAER KIND FELLOW, THIS IS NOT A JOKE. I AM THE BARRISTER HADLING THIS CASES. IF YOU QUALIFIE FOER THIS FINANCES WE MUST ACT QUICKLEY. SEND ME YOUR SOCIEAL SECUITY NUMERALS AND BANK NUMBER IMEDIETLY!! SO THAT YOU MAY BE COMPENSASTED JUSTLY.”
That convinced me. I’m sending all my information right now.
The Nigerian scam existed long before the Net. Decades before email, there was the scam LETTER, sent by mail and fax, designed to manipulate and bilk individuals and companies of revenue with a variety of flimflam. Nigeria is not the only country that hosts scammers, simply the most infamous.
As patently conspicuous as it all looks to most of us, there is but one reason scammers continue bombarding the Net with their kooky capers: people actually fall for this stuff. Indeed, the livelihood of the scammer depends on humanity’s boundless greed and preternatural capacity to believe in the most ridiculous shit ever. And while the ever dupable are robbed annually of millions, money is not the only thing taken.
In 1998, my buddy “Harris” was a 43 year-old recently divorced health care executive who for three months exchanged email, photos and several voice mail messages (he could never catch her in, and she always seemed to call when he couldn’t answer) with an attractive, 20-something woman with seductive dark eyes and kinky, brown shoulder-length hair.
I was actually with Harris when he went to pick her up. We’d had lunch in Marina Del Rey—-in retrospect, I believe he planned it that way—-and since we were already close to L.A. International, he insisted that I ride out there with him.
Three hours later, as we walked back to the parking lot, Harris was still carrying the supermarket bouquet and a small cardboard sign inscribed with the name of a woman who didn’t exist. Shamefully, he reasoned that he could replace the $1,300 he’d foolishly wired to “Vivian” during her now suspect trek across Europe, supposedly en route to America to meet him. Patching up the hole in his heart and his dignity took a bit longer.
Meanwhile, somewhere in cyberspace, a person armed with a collection of woman’s JPEGs and a knack for writing sweet nothings, was no doubt pelting another email address, hoping the next man they found would be at least half as gullible as he was lonely.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via: [email protected]