Software

Nigerian 419 scammers: What you didn't know

Most of us have been solicited by 419 scammers from Nigeria, so we understand how the swindle works. I've wondered about the people behind the con, but never found much written about them. That is until now.

Karin Brulliard, a Washington Post Staff Writer released a fascinating article, providing an in-depth view of what it is like to be a cyber-con artist or yahoo-yahoo boy as they are known in Nigeria.

419 swindling is so much a part of the Nigerian culture, there are songs written about it. One song "Yahoozee" became especially popular when former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell danced with the Yahoozee Boys in London.

It's big business

Brulliard featured Felix and Banjo, two colorful yet quiet yahoo-yahoo boys in her article:

"In the lingo of swindlers, Felix said he went "on the street." He got "tools": formats, or "FMs," for letters; "mailers," or accounts that send e-mails in bulk; and huge lists of e-mail addresses, bought online. In good months, he said, he has made $30,000, which he blew on clothes, hotel rooms and Dom Perignon at "VVIP" clubs."

Banjo went on to describe their favorite fraud:

"The work-from-home scam, which authorities warn is flourishing as the world sheds jobs. In U.S. newspapers and on the Web, he places ads for "pickup agents" or "correspondents." They print out counterfeit corporate checks — Honeywell is one company whose checks Banjo said he faked — at $10 apiece and mail them to other unsuspecting folks. Those victims then cash the checks and wire the funds to the scammer's accomplice in Britain or South Africa — places less likely to elicit the sender's suspicion. After taking a cut, that person wires the rest to Banjo. Days later, when the bank deems the check phony, the casher must pay. In good months, Banjo said, he has made $60,000." Somewhat ironic

Brulliard's writing captivated me, I started envisioning these two men being casted in a Yahoo-Yahoo version of "The Sting", and then there was mention of a special tool:

"But in these tough times, the scammers said, they are relying more on a crucial tool: voodoo. At times, Banjo said, he has traveled six hours to the forest, where a magician sells scam-boosters. A $300 powder supposedly helps scammers "speak with authority" when demanding payment. A powder, rubbed on the face, reportedly makes victims viewing the scammer through webcams powerless to say no."

That was a twist I didn't expect.

Final thoughts

Edited 11 Aug 2009: My intent was not to cast a negative shadow on any nationality. If you look at statistics, the United States (my home country) ranks number one in electronic swindling. I was only trying to pass on information about the people behind the 419 e-mails from Nigeria.

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Information is my field...Writing is my passion...Coupling the two is my mission.

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