Reality is the working paradox that defies control

Millions of victims lost $12.7B falling for Nigerian scams

A new report shows that Nigerian money scams are more profitable than ever. Why are people still falling for those emails telling them they won a lottery they never entered?

Geektime Aviva Gat

Smart people are easier to scam, according to a new report released by Ultrascan AGI, which recently released a report on Nigerian 419 Advance Fee Fraud statistics. According to the report, losses from Nigerian scams totaled $12.7 billion in 2013.

We have all gotten that email. You know the one, saying you just received a big inheritance, or maybe you won the lottery even though you never bought a ticket, or maybe the email sender needs to smuggle money into the U.S. and promises to give you a portion of the money in return for just a little help. If these emails even make it into your inbox instead of your spam folder, hopefully you recognize the scam, but according to the report, millions of people have fallen for these tricks, leaving huge holes in their pockets and making hundreds of thousands of Nigerians rich.

This month Ultrascan released statistics on how many victims fell for Nigerian 419 Advance Fee Fraud scams. According to the report, there are more than 800,000 organized perpetrators globally, many coming from Nigeria, and that number is growing by 5% annually. The scam is called a Nigerian 419 scam because the method originated in Nigeria and 419 is the number of the article in the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud. To be considered a Nigerian 419 scam, the perpetrator does not need to be in Nigeria, but does need to have a West African connection and must require some advance fees. According to the report, roughly 85,000 of perpetrators come from the “Nigerian Diaspora” residing in 69 different countries.

Congrats on winning the lottery…

Apparently giving money out for free is big business and these scams account for $82 billion in losses to date, including the $12.7 billion in losses in 2013. And people are getting more gullible. In 2012, losses totaled $10.9 billion, up from $9.6 billion in 2011. In 2013, people in the U.S., the U.K., and India fell for the most scams.

According to the report, 80% of all check fraud reported, 95% of all lottery scams and 91% of inheritance and last will and testament frauds are related to Nigerian 419 scams. Losses from individual scams range from $200 to $12 million, based on what the perpetrator enacts. The smaller scams are mostly lottery scams, or scams promising to help job seekers find placements. The larger losses usually deal with fraudulent proposals based on a real businesses dealing with oil, gold, medical equipment or other investments. These scams take much longer – between one and eight years – and cause the victims to invest in costly preparations like hiring subcontractors, so the losses factor in more than just what ends up in the scammer’s hands.

According to the report, in these longer scams, it is usually very difficult for victims to recognize the scam because they feel they have built a relationship with the scammer. The report also notes that contrary to wide beliefs, high achieving professionals are more likely to be defrauded than poorly educated or financially desperate people. Maybe this is because people with more money may be more likely to risk money to make bigger sums.

Free money is big business

The Economics and Financial Crimes Commission in Nigeria has been fighting the crime and has secured 773 convictions and has recovered billions of Naira, which is the Nigerian currency (1 Naira is equal to a little more than half a penny in the U.S.). However, that is a small drop in the bucket of scams and isn’t stopping scammers from enacting fraud and tarnishing the country’s image.

“In Nigeria there are too many to count but It is obvious that most of the 170 million Nigerians are not aware that some of their fellow countrymen have earned them the dubious honour of becoming the worlds globalizer for Fraud,” Ultrascan AGI wrote in its report. “That bad image of Nigeria has become of greater concern to Nigerians and Goodluck Jonathan Nigeria’s president bemoans the negative image of his country, which is smeared by 419 Advance Fee Fraud, internet fraud and corruption. Nigerians stop lying to yourselves.”

Ultrascan AGI is a subsidiary of Ultrascan Research Services, an international research organization with more than 3,200 experts in 69 countries. According to the report, these scams started even before they could be mass sent through email. In the 1970s, perpetrators sent letters, usually to small businesses, pretending to be Nigerian government officials in need of help disposing of new oil wealth. In the 1980s and 1990s the scammers moved to fax and then with the internet, the number of scams exploded.

In 2002, the U.S. government received permission to open all letters from the Nigeria to the U.S., and found that 70% were scams. In Australia, meanwhile, they found that between August and November in 1998, 1.8 million scam letters came with counterfeit postage. Ultrascan has been monitoring data for Nigerian scams since 1996.

So next time someone contacts you, seeking your help to move money, or maybe because they fell in love with you and need money to come and be with you, smile and laugh because if it is too good to be true, it probably is