Saturday, January 20, 2007

We're not having a good month...

Combine the national embarrassment that is Celebrity Big Brother with this from Marginal Revolution a few days ago:

"Last year Britons gave over $660 million to Nigerian-style scans, from Harpers Index, February issue."

I know that West African scam e-mails are an old story but the scale that statistic suggests is amazing. It doesn't seem credible that more than about $10,000 dollars can be taken on average from those who fall for these schemes; I can't believe that they are particularly attractive to the wealthy. If $10,000 dollars were the average that would imply 66,000 people have been caught out; this seems a conservative estimate. That makes it decidedly possible that one in a thousand people in the UK fall for e-mails like this one:

" I am Barrister Peter Van Smith, a solicitor at law. I was the personal
attorney to Eng, John McPherson, a national of your country who used to
work with an oil servicing company here in Amsterdam-Netherlands after
which be referred to as my client. Eng, John McPherson 62 years of age made
a fixed deposit of fund
valued at USD$14,500,000 (Fourteen Million, Five Hundred Thousand United
States Dollars Only) with a Security Company/Finance Firm here in Europe
and unfortunately lost his life in an Egyptian charter plane Boeing 737 .
which crashed into the Red Sea early on January 3 shortly after
taking off from the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all the 135
passengers and 13 crew members aboard, Ref: (View: ). He left
no clear beneficiary as Next of Kin except
some vital documents related to the deposit still in my possession.

Recently, the governing body of the Security Company/Finance Firm
contacted me on this matter, requesting that I should notify the next of
kin of
my late client to claim the funds and I am yet to provide the Next of Kin
to lay claims to the Fund. I know that my client had no living next
of kin but I went ahead and made several inquiries to your embassy to
locate any of my late clients extended relatives but this has proved
unsuccessful. Under a clear and legitimate agreement with you, I seek
your consent to present you as the next so that my late client's fund will
not be confiscated
by the Security Company.

You and I can share the money, you will be entitled to 50% of the total
fund for your role as the relative and next of kin of my late client,
40% for me while 10% is to be marked out for any expenses that will be
incurred during the clearance or process of transfer of the fund to
your bank account. Be informed that there is no risk involved as all
necessary legal document which will be used to back you up as the legal
and next of kin of my late client will be procured.
All I require is your sincerity, honesty, co-operation and utmost good
faiths to enable us see this deal through. I guarantee that this will
be executed under a legitimate arrangement that will protect you from any
breach of the law. Kindly, get in touch with me by my e-mail
{ or telephone to enable us discuss further. You
may also send your telephone number so that I can call you. Do not
forget that a transaction of this magnitude require utmost confidentiality
and sincerity. I look forward to your urgent response.

Thank you,
Peter Van Smith

Oh my. It doesn't even make sense. All they want is your honesty and sincerity in a scheme to pose as the next of kin of a dead man. Another one sitting in my junk mail folder is all about how the woman sending the e-mail is dying from cancer and really wants her money to go to a Christian instead of an "unbeliever". That particular trickster is targetting the stupid but pious market evidently.

I guess most of the people who fall for this kind of thing are the old or otherwise vulnerable who lose, in a matter of weeks, savings they have spent a lifetime saving. That might actually mean the numbers falling for it are somewhat lower than I estimated earlier if the criminals often manage to entirely relieve someone of their retirement savings.

I'm not sure what you could do to stop this practice really beyond punishing those scammers caught very severely but even this isn't likely to work with so much money out there and a low likelihood of being caught. If the sentence were long enough you might still get a response, the Becker strategy, but even then the amount of money on offer to an enterprising West African would make this problem unlikely to go away. I guess there will always be tragic stories as people have the most saved at the end of their lives when they are most likely to also have their judgement impaired. These e-mails are far from the only way for the dishonest to prey upon the trusting.

1 comment:

Gracchi said...

I agree with you Matt- I've had that same Peter Van Smith email as well- but your broader point is right. The other huge difficulty is the different jurisdictions- many of the countries from which the spam emails come are countries which don't have extraditiona treaties with the UK or have law enforcement problems of their own so it becomes very difficult even to find and get the guys here let alone convict them of anything. Good post- the numbers are horrifying.