Cyber-criminals are forever striving to make their online schemes as cutting-edge and innovative as possible, by utilising new technologies and always adapting and evolving their digital traps to make them as convincing as they can be in a bid to lure even the most scam-weary of Internet surfers.
Except one, it would seem. The classic, decades old “Nigerian prince” scam.
Otherwise known as advance fee fraud or Nigerian/419 scams, these schemes have largely remained as unconvincing and unoriginal as they were way back in the 1990s.
As they always have done, the bulk of these scams start with an email from a scammer posing as a Nigerian prince or lawyer, informing you, the email recipient – a.k.a. the victim – that you have somehow inherited (or won) a large sum of money, often millions of dollars.
But in a bid to retrieve your money, surprise! It emerges that first you need to fork out various upfront costs, like security bonds, courier costs and transfer fees. Or so the scammer says. In reality the scammer is trying to take you for a ride. Of course no large sum of money actually exists, and the scammer is just fleecing as much money from you as possible.
Almost all of us will be aware of these scams. They even predate the Internet with their earliest incarnations being orchestrated through snail mail. And while some “Nigerian scam” scammers do try and evolve their schemes to fit with the moving times, many of them stick to the same, tired plot – the Nigerian lawyer or prince, desperately trying to move millions of dollars straight into your bank account.
Unoriginal, uninspired and – to nearly everyone – the easiest scam you’ll ever spot.
So why stick to the same worn-out template? Surely everyone must know about those “overly generous” Nigerians by now?
Well, there is a logic behind it. And a ruthless logic at that.
A typical “Nigerian scam” will involve the passing of many emails between the victim and scammer, as the scammer attempts to bait the victim into handing over their money to retrieve the non-existent riches. Passing these emails to and fro requires effort, time and money on behalf of the scammer.
And since the scammer is probably trying to con many victims at any one time, the scammer wants to know that the victims they’re communicating with really are vulnerable/naïve enough to actually fall for the scheme. After all, the scammer doesn’t want to exchange 15 emails with a victim just to discover the victim getting cold feet and pulling the plug.
So, for the scammer, it is in their best interest to weed out anyone who may smell a scam, right from the outset. Right from the beginning.
And straight away that leaves only the people most likely to fall for the scam, from start to finish.
So these scams remain largely the same for a reason. The initial bait may be old and unoriginal, and it may only turn over a smaller number of “bites”, but those it does catch are more likely to be cheated by the scammer into handing over their hard earned money.
They did, after all, reply to an email from a Nigerian prince.