I must admit that sometimes when I’m going through the junk mail filter, I like to look at the narratives of scammers to see how creative they are being. However, it is so sad that they are so obvious. And there is very little variation in the narrative. It just seems that there are an awful lot of deposed monarchs with banking problems.
Anyhow this report in The Verge got my attention:
Microsoft researcher Cormac Herley seeks to answer one of the basic questions of internet life in his paper, Why do Nigerian scammers say they are from Nigeria? Getting an email from a deposed Nigerian prince sends off warning bells to just about everyone, so why do scammers continue to use such outlandish stories from a location infamous for advance fee fraud? Herley says that scammers don’t want anyone but the most gullible — and therefore the most likely to follow through — to respond to the emails because it costs scammers time, money, and effort to continue past the first email. The point is to weed out those who will back out with the initial email, to focus their effort on those more likely to fall for the entire scheme.
The question speaks to the issue of a seeming lack of innovation amongst scammers. According to the paper, over half of scammers still claim to be from Nigeria. Apparently, by being less innovative, you are more likely to weed out the gullible. That’s a theory but is it really that. The alternative is, if you are an obvious scammer, that some vigilante targets you. See for instance, this interesting video.
Of course, the alternative is that the Nigerian scams are just part of a strategy of sending out lots of emails and by being mostly the same, the gullible — who may be looking for that one gem — may be attracted to something more unique. By having lots of false and obvious scams, the gullible may be attracted to the less obvious ones.