And more to the point - who's still falling for this scam...?
This week silicon.com published an email conversation
with somebody carrying out the notorious 419 fraud - better known as the Nigerian email, or money, scam.
Over the course of five weeks a man calling himself Mr Madu was strung along, led blindly by the hopes that he could get his hands on the bank details, passport, driving licence and ultimately the hard earned cash of a silicon reporter operating under an assumed name.
This morning we have been inundated with responses to the article
. Testimony to the sheer number of these scams is the fact that everybody we heard from had received at least one in their in-box - and many had received dozens.
Even while we were reading the feedback another arrived in the silicon virtual mail-bag - this time offering a share of the spoils from the fortune of a dead statesman from Sierra Leone.
But why is this happening? The sheer number of people carrying out this fraud suggests the word is out in West Africa that this is easy money. People must still be falling for it in sufficient numbers to make it a worthwhile prospect. So for every UK journalist stringing them along there are clearly a great many more individuals falling for their 'tempting offer'.
Last year one group which had stolen more than £13m
was caught by an Interpol operation. But how many more are yet to be tracked down, and how much money have they made?
Having dealt with somebody trying to extort money through this means it seems incredible that people fall for it. The old adage that 'if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is' has never been more relevant.
To illustrate, two of the more preposterous points to come out of our experiences were:
> The official bank, which Mr Madu claimed was holding the money, uses a Yahoo! email account. But would anybody really deal with a major international bank that uses a webmail address? It hardly exudes professionalism.
> When pressed, Mr Madu said he got in touch through an email address listed in the "Hotmail Directory of Successful Men and Women". Of course such a directory doesn't exist.
But then the very nature of any scam is that it plays on inherent human flaws - such as greed. Presented with the idea that they could make millions in a matter of minutes, people lose sight of the realities of such a proposal.
If people hadn't heard of the scam before or were particularly desperate for money then it is possible to see how much they would want
it to be true - perhaps want
so hard they convince themselves it's worth replying.
Nobody ever said con tricks had to be big or clever, often the simpler the better. The 419 fraud is pure ID theft presented as a preposterously over the top financial opportunity - and it's clearly very successful. Hopefully though, the more we talk about it and the more we share our experiences, the more we are shortening its life span.
Have you read the article yet? What are your experiences of this Nigerian scam. Email email@example.com and let us hear your stories. Is anybody out there prepared to admit to falling for it?