I've been trying for years to get ripped off by scam artists.
When it comes to Nigerian scams, this proves harder than you would think.
Since the early days of email, I've been dragging scam offerings from a wide variety of eminent strangers - deposed kings and princes, ex-presidents and dictators, bankers and diplomats.
This is the start of a Nigerian scam. You get an email that offers you a huge payout for helping someone move some cash out of (usually) an African nation. They just need some info from you first, like your credit card numbers or banking information!
Of course, this ends with the victim either losing some money or having their identity stolen.
As a form of entertainment, I've tried to respond and see if I could string along these folks for a while. Why not pester someone who makes their living ripping off the gullible?
So in the past, I've replied to quite a few of these scams. I've sent reply emails that were short and basic, or that were filled with elaborate lies about my successful dental practice, or my recent inheritance from my deceased millionaire great-uncle.
I never got a single response back from any of the scammers.
I found out why thanks to a Microsoft researcher, Cormac Herley, who recently wrote a paper, "Why do Nigerian Scammers Say They Are From Nigeria?"
There are pages of arguments and charts and graphs, but this is the summary of why the scammers use such an obvious, blatant, even absurd approach to their stories:
"Far-fetched tales of West African riches strike most as comical. Our analysis suggests that is an advantage to the attacker, not a disadvantage. By sending an email that repels all but the most gullible the scammer gets the most promising marks to self-select, and tilts the true to false positive ratio in his favor."
Okay, so the proper response is to appear as stupid as possible. All that hinting I did about being wealthy and/or professional? That was useless.
I got to try this out last week when I got an email from "Thato Williams," who despite claiming to be a banker with Standard Bank of South Africa uses an AOL account to contact his marks.
"I recently discovered $17.3M left in a dormant account by a demised [sic] client," wrote the no-doubt trustworthy Mr. Williams. "Since
the death of the client in 1999, no relative has applied for the release of this funds which are lodged in an escrow dormant account. Can we work together on getting this money out?"
I replied thusly: "How can get mnoey ?" [Entirely sic].
And boy, did that work. I've now wasted a considerable amount of the time of Mr.
Williams, who must be convinced that I am a thick-skulled half-wit barely capable of brushing my teeth without poking out an eye.
Not only that, but my clear motivation is raw greed, since I asked not a thing about the dead person, or even about how we'd split the cash up between us.
Mr. Williams is now trying to get me to send him scans of my passport and driver's licence. So far I've sent him a reply without any attachments, and next up, I'll be sending him a blank .pdf. It's natural that someone dumb enough to fall for his scam would also have trouble with basic computer skills, so he seems to be trying to string me along.
For years, crooks have messed with us and wasted our time with spam and scams.
I feel like this is one small measure of revenge, as I pester and annoy a modern villain.