Nigerian and other west african scammers: birth of an industry

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
14,030
I've always been intrigued by what is called "nigerian scam" (initially apparently from Nigeria , now having spread to other west african countries)

From crude letters of someone claiming to be a princess or son/daughter of some ex dictator needing your help to move tens millions out of the country and willing to pay you millions to do so, they have now moved to online romance and other scams.

Leaving aside the moral and legal aspects, the historical question is why this particular "industry" arose in this particular place ? One can understand for example, Colombia's problem with drug trafficking, that is where the goods grow.... But the online scamming business - now a multi billion dollar industry- apparently had no specific reason to originate in Nigeria...

Looking broader can the rise of industries based on "innovation" be somehow predicted based on past experience ? Can history always explain why certain industries/activities appeared where they did (clock making in Switzerland ? Anime in Japan ? Coffee in Italy ? etc..) ? And if yes can we predict where future activities are most likely to originate from ? Or is it down to pure dumb luck ?


 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,651
Benin City, Nigeria
This was called the "Spanish letter scam" or "Spanish prisoner scam" and some western Europeans practiced it, from about the late 16th century to the 19th century.


I don't know when and where exactly the Nigerian variant of it first popped up, but I think I read some account a long time ago claiming it started sometime in the 1970s or 1980s. I'm not certain that Nigerians "reinvented" this scam from pure imagination though; a Nigerian decades ago could easily have read about this long established European scam ("advance fee fraud") in a book or magazine somewhere and thought "hey why don't I try this stuff out and see if I can actually fool a few gullible rich Nigerians " (and eventually foreigners as well). Who knows how it really first happened in Nigeria?

The question "why this particular industry arose in this particular place" is certainly a legitimate question to ask about why this particular kind of scam gained traction in Nigeria though. The same question could also be asked about other types of fraudulence/scamming that are prevalent in other parts of the world, like Ponzi schemes and pyramid schemes. To my knowledge most or nearly all of the biggest or most notorious cases of such scams (Ponzi schemes or pyramid schemes) have taken place in western countries. Perhaps different types of scamming have different levels of appeal/popularity across different cultures?
 

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
14,030
This was called the "Spanish letter scam" or "Spanish prisoner scam" and some western Europeans practiced it, from about the late 16th century to the 19th century.


I don't know when and where exactly the Nigerian variant of it first popped up, but I think I read some account a long time ago claiming it started sometime in the 1970s or 1980s. I'm not certain that Nigerians "reinvented" this scam from pure imagination though; a Nigerian decades ago could easily have read about this long established European scam ("advance fee fraud") in a book or magazine somewhere and thought "hey why don't I try this stuff out and see if I can actually fool a few gullible rich Nigerians " (and eventually foreigners as well). Who knows how it really first happened in Nigeria?

The question "why this particular industry arose in this particular place" is certainly a legitimate question to ask about why this particular kind of scam gained traction in Nigeria though. The same question could also be asked about other types of fraudulence/scamming that are prevalent in other parts of the world, like Ponzi schemes and pyramid schemes. To my knowledge most or nearly all of the biggest or most notorious cases of such scams (Ponzi schemes or pyramid schemes) have taken place in western countries. Perhaps different types of scamming have different levels of appeal/popularity across different cultures?
You are absolutely right about the "spanish letter", but at the time it was really small scale (granted there were technological limitations).. What nigerians have done is turn it into a multi billion dollar industry, and more than that, an export industry (since the "mugus" or "clients" are mostly outside of Nigeria)... And of course the "romance scam" is a significant leap forward into new territory... Note that there is a language aspect (so Nigerians scammers focus on english speaking targets whilst scammers other west african countries that are french speaking will focus on french speaking targets)... Amazingly , even with limited language skills some of the scammers are able to fool their targets in online chats... And as the above documentary shows, it is an organized industry, with specialized skills: you've got the financial gurus able to move money around and open bank accounts anywhere in the world, you've got the security experts etc.... and then down the food chain you've got "production", young men (interestingly little or no women, so these young men actually pose as women in the chats) sitting behind computers and typing away to fool the victims...

As to pyramid schemes (Ponzi) my understanding is that they are pretty universal BUT their targets are mostly local.... Of course the indisputed master to date is Mr Madoff on that particular front...Of course in his case it can somewhat be explained by the fact that he was sitting at the very heart of the western financial system, in wall street, so he had relatively easy access to a big pie....
 
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Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,651
Benin City, Nigeria
You are absolutely right about the "spanish letter", but at the time it was really small scale (granted there were technological limitations).. What nigerians have done is turn it into a multi billion dollar industry, and more than that, an export industry (since the "mugus" or "clients" are mostly outside of Nigeria)... And of course the "romance scam" is a significant leap forward into new territory... Note that there is a language aspect (so Nigerians scammers focus on english speaking targets whilst scammers other west african countries that are french speaking will focus on french speaking targets)... Amazingly , even with limited language skills some of the scammers are able to fool their targets in online chats... And as the above documentary shows, it is an organized industry, with specialized skills: you've got the financial gurus able to move money around and open bank accounts anywhere in the world, you've got the security experts etc.... and then down the food chain you've got "production", young men (interestingly little or no women, so these young men actually pose as women in the chats) sitting behind computers and typing away to fool the victims...
Sure...I just don't know with any certainty that the recent trend with advance fee fraud was really of Nigerian origin for certain, since a Nigerian could have learned of it from elsewhere easily, since it already existed for centuries elsewhere.

Ponzi schemes only gained a bit of popularity recently in Nigeria for example (after already being well established in the US and in European countries) and they were introduced to the country through a Russian scam called MMM that was popular in this decade. Advance fee fraud could have been introduced to Nigeria in a similar way as ponzi schemes were, except from western Europe, decades ago.

As for advance fee fraud being a multibillion dollar industry, it's possible, but I think there may be some exaggeration in the estimate of the amounts these scammers are actually getting.

As to pyramid schemes (Ponzi) my understanding is that they are pretty universal BUT their targets are mostly local.... Of course the indisputed master to date is Mr Madoff on that particular front...Of course in his case it can somewhat be explained by the fact that he was sitting at the very heart of the western financial system, in wall street, so he had relatively easy access to a big pie....
How universal are they? Ponzi schemes and pyramid schemes together are definitely a multibillion dollar industry, and as far as I can tell the majority of known cases are not from developing countries but from western countries. They might exist everywhere but probably aren't being carried out with the same level of sophistication or being pursued as frequently in different areas of the world.

I actually read about an interesting case of Nigerians and people from other developing countries being defrauded by one of those schemes, MMM Global, that I referenced above, which was run by some Russian guy:


This wasn't a case of local targets, since it specifically aimed to go global. After this Russian scam was imported to Nigeria, new local ponzi schemes started cropping up in Nigeria.
 

JoanOfArc007

Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
3,956
USA
This was called the "Spanish letter scam" or "Spanish prisoner scam" and some western Europeans practiced it, from about the late 16th century to the 19th century.


I don't know when and where exactly the Nigerian variant of it first popped up, but I think I read some account a long time ago claiming it started sometime in the 1970s or 1980s. I'm not certain that Nigerians "reinvented" this scam from pure imagination though; a Nigerian decades ago could easily have read about this long established European scam ("advance fee fraud") in a book or magazine somewhere and thought "hey why don't I try this stuff out and see if I can actually fool a few gullible rich Nigerians " (and eventually foreigners as well). Who knows how it really first happened in Nigeria?

The question "why this particular industry arose in this particular place" is certainly a legitimate question to ask about why this particular kind of scam gained traction in Nigeria though. The same question could also be asked about other types of fraudulence/scamming that are prevalent in other parts of the world, like Ponzi schemes and pyramid schemes. To my knowledge most or nearly all of the biggest or most notorious cases of such scams (Ponzi schemes or pyramid schemes) have taken place in western countries. Perhaps different types of scamming have different levels of appeal/popularity across different cultures?
One similar scam would be the Israeli locksmith scam,



Con artists if you will are a worldwide issue, from fake watch sellers to other counterfeiters this is a worldwide issue.

In the USA there have been fake veteran aid organisations.


Nigeria faces corruption as do other countries,

 
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VHS

Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
4,733
Florania
Sure...I just don't know with any certainty that the recent trend with advance fee fraud was really of Nigerian origin for certain, since a Nigerian could have learned of it from elsewhere easily, since it already existed for centuries elsewhere.

Ponzi schemes only gained a bit of popularity recently in Nigeria for example (after already being well established in the US and in European countries) and they were introduced to the country through a Russian scam called MMM that was popular in this decade. Advance fee fraud could have been introduced to Nigeria in a similar way as ponzi schemes were, except from western Europe, decades ago.

As for advance fee fraud being a multibillion dollar industry, it's possible, but I think there may be some exaggeration in the estimate of the amounts these scammers are actually getting.



How universal are they? Ponzi schemes and pyramid schemes together are definitely a multibillion dollar industry, and as far as I can tell the majority of known cases are not from developing countries but from western countries. They might exist everywhere but probably aren't being carried out with the same level of sophistication or being pursued as frequently in different areas of the world.

I actually read about an interesting case of Nigerians and people from other developing countries being defrauded by one of those schemes, MMM Global, that I referenced above, which was run by some Russian guy:


This wasn't a case of local targets, since it specifically aimed to go global. After this Russian scam was imported to Nigeria, new local ponzi schemes started cropping up in Nigeria.
I suggest the book The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova for references.