419 scams “still a huge problem”

A study by Chatham House reveals that the Nigerian “419 scam”, in which people are scammed out of “advance fees” when they respond to letters asking for help getting the scammers’ wealth out of Nigeria (or another third-world country) in return for a cut of the money, is becoming “a large and pressing problem” here in the UK according to this Yahoo news report, also at BBC News. The scam is said to cost the economy £150 million per year, with average losses of £30,000 per victim. (More: SAFspace.)

I must say, I’ve had an increasing volume of scam emails turning up in my Yahoo and Hotmail mail boxes, the addresses to which appears in plain text on certain websites. I had thought that these scams were dying out, or at least becoming more sophisticated than the old scam of someone pretending to be an old African general or politician who needed to get several million pounds out and needed the recipient’s help. After all, the activities of “scam baiters” such as this site, who spin the scammers a story and sometimes humiliate them by posting their pictures on the internet, meant that the fraudsters never knew whether they were dealing with a “mugu” (fool) or someone who was making a mugu out of them.

They have got more sophisticated, of course - to the point of, for example, putting “as-salaamu ‘alaikum” at the beginning of letters to those whose addresses they harvested from certain Muslim matrimonial websites and varying their appeals when the long sob stories started to lose their effect. But I still can’t believe that people still fall for it after all these years (it didn’t start with the hard-up Nigerian generals; the “Spanish prisoner” racket, in which the victim is asked to contribute to freeing an imprisoned Spanish nobleman, but only ends up enriching the conman, goes back to the 16th century). It should really be common knowledge. Perhaps the authorities just haven’t done enough to publicise the fact that, if you get such a letter, it’s a scam, no ifs and buts about it. And why would you want to do business with the Abacha family anyway? Do your research. They were crooks and everyone knows it.

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