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The Dork Squad

The 411 on Nigeria 419

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My Inbox is a wasteland of offers for penis enlargement pills and botox injections. Weight trainers in Canada want to flatten my stomach and Sheryl from Sacramento promises to enlarge my breasts with an expensive miracle cream. Fantastic. But promises of physical improvement are no good to me; you can't mess with perfection. If Sheryl had a cream to fatten my wallet, things would be different. That's where a certain Charles from Nigeria comes into the picture.

Dear Sir,


First I must solicit your strictest confidence in this transaction; this is by virtue of its nature as being utterly confidential and top secret as you were introduced to us in confidence through the Nigerian Chamber of Commerce, Foreign Trade Division.

Hell, I'd do anything for Nigeria. My lips are sealed.

The Nigerian Chamber of Commerce must have seen my timely MasterCard payments and said "Hey, that's our man." It's a good thing they stumbled onto my secret Yahoo! account.

We are top officials from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Federal Ministry of Finance and the Presidency, making up the contract Review Panel (CRP) set up by the Federal Government of Nigeria to review contracts awarded by the military administration.

In the course of our work on the CRP, we discovered this fund which resulted from grossly over-invoiced contracts which were executed for the NNPC during the last administration. The companies that executed the contracts have been duely paid and the contracts commissioned leaving the sum of US$21.5 million floating in the escrow account of the Central Bank of Nigeria ready for payment.

Blah blah blah over-invoiced blah blah $21.5 million yadda yadda payment.

Golden, Chuck. Write me a check.

I have therefore been mandated as a matter of trust by my colleagues in the panel to look for an overseas partner to whom we could transfer the sum of US$21.5 million legally subcontracting the entitlement to your company. This is bearing in mind that our civil service code of conduct forbids us from owning foreign company or running foreign account while in government service, hence the need for an oversea partner.

If you can't trust an alleged Nigerian government official planning to embezzle millions of dollars from his country's coffers with the help of a stranger using a free e-mail address, who can you trust?

This is the Nigeria 419, a decades old scam named for the Nigerian legal code outlawing it. Sent by way of fax and phone long before e-mail was even a twinkle in some lonely programmer's eye, the scheme has found new life in cyberspace. Hundreds of variations exist, but it all boils down to the same concept: a phony foreign national needs your help to remove millions of dollars from his country.

Well, lucky you. Not only is this one of the more prolific spam scams littering your Inbox right now, it's the only one that has actually gotten people killed.

Certainly the good politicians of Nigeria aren't going to just toss their money to some stranger. They may have picked your name out of a hat, but these brave investors still want to get to know you. That's why people foolish enough to fall for the scam almost always get an invitation to sunny Nigeria, where the children work but the phones don't. During your stay you'll get to meet fake government officials, sleep in a maggot-infested bed, and flee from the none-too-gentle authorities because you don't have a visa. Make sure to pack a camera and plenty of bandages; at least one man has died attempting to claim the cash.

If you make it back from Nigeria without jail time or a nasty head wound, you'll get to pay thousands of dollars in expenses. Those nasty bureaucrats won't let your friends remove money from the country without a fight. After all, paperwork costs money and some dishonest officials need bribes. Think of it as a Stupid Tax. It must not pay well to work for the Nigerian government.

After a few weeks of stalling and several more requests for money, two things become obvious: you're not a rocket scientist and you'll certainly never be a millionaire. The milking stops when you wise up or go broke and develop a nervous twitch.

I say hurray for Nigeria. Sure the scam is despicable, but let's face reality. The country will never be a tourism hot spot. They don't have sparkling beaches, majestic mountains, or annual film festivals. Heck, most of the country doesn't even have electricity. No one wants to snap photos of President Obasanjo's shack or walk on the piles of dead surrounding capital Abuja. There's a rock outside Ogbomosho that looks a little like Elvis, but that's it.

Bottom line: It's not the Bahamas.

Besides, people taken in by these hustlers deserve to lose their money. No one should be that trusting, especially when it comes to international strangers. It's only fitting that that their greed turns around and bites them in the ass. They'd probably just waste the money on a 401(k) plan or someone's college fund anyway. At least they got to see Africa.

Nigeria's 419 Coalition, between muffled giggles, estimates that people have lost at least $5 billion dollars worldwide to this scam since 1996. To Nigeria, stupid Americans are a natural resource. We're not quite as valuable as oil or coal, but we've got their diamond industry beat. Our money is in a better place with a smarter people now. At least someone out there can afford that breast cream.

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