Identifying the Gullible: Why are there so many Nigerian princes out there?

The other day, I received a phone call from a number with my area code. I answered and then the conversation went like this:
Caller: Hi…
Me: Hello…hello?
Caller: …Oh sorry…I was having problems with my headset…
Me:[Realizing this is a recording] Oh alright then…
Caller: I’m calling to let you know you’ve won…

And that’s when I hung up. If you have a cell phone, you’ve probably received a phone call like this and wondered, how do scams like these still happen? Does anybody actually give their information? Then I wondered how schemes like this can even be profitable.

After a brief interlude of research on scams and telemarketing, I came across several articles referring to the economics of an infamous scam: the Nigerian prince email or 419 scam. According to the FBI, these scams violate section 419 of the Nigerian criminal code, hence the label “419 fraud.” You’ve probably heard of it, or seen it show up in your spam folder. A Nigerian prince or government official explains that they have millions of dollars that they need to move out of Nigeria and that they need your help to do it. The scammers then request information such as bank account numbers, bank names, and other sensitive information. Generally, the scammer then invents reasons for the person being scammed to send money, usually for legal fees or bribes to get the money out of Nigeria and to the helpful, gullible victim.

So, why does this scam work? And they are successful, despite what you may think. In fact, up to $750 million dollars were recovered from these scammers by the Nigerian government. Mainly, it’s because they are so unbelievable. Most people, when they see any email from a Nigerian prince, it immediately goes into your trash folder. Which means, that the people who read and respond are the most likely to follow all the way through, and comply with the “prince’s” request for more money and information. By making their story so implausible, the scammers focus their effort on the people most likely to make them a profit. If their story was more realistic, more people might follow through initially then realize it’s a scam, costing the scammer more effort for no reward. So maybe next time you get an email from a Nigerian prince, consider stringing them along for a bit.

Lastly, here’s a comedian who made a scammer work for a shot at his money.

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