Do Nigerian Scam Emails Hide A Terrible Secret? [Opinion]

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Do Nigerian Scam Emails Hide A Terrible Secret? [Opinion]
Do Nigerian Scam Emails Hide A Terrible Secret? [Opinion]

Another spam email arrives in my mailbox, eluding the Windows Live spam filter that does such a fine job of shielding my eyes from all of the other unwelcome bobbins. Naturally, the letter is from a Nigerian citizen, a legal agent of a deposed royal who want to pay me to conceal some illicit profits in my bank account. It’s an extremely generous offer, enough to make me reconsider the morality of saying yes.

The issue, of course, is that it’s a Nigerian scam email – a fraud that has been going on for years in slightly various versions with the odd alteration in specifics. In fact, the advance-fee scam has been going on for so long that I find it hard to believe that anybody could fall for it.

Jelly Brains

I’ve been working in IT and internet security since 2004, and I know that for some individuals, using a computer is like learning a foreign language – distant, complicated, and worthless. I’ve seen the brains of brilliant individuals (consulting psychologists, medical professors) turn to jelly when asked to press the Start button in Windows.

As a result, I’m well aware that people will click on anything with a blue line underneath it, whether in an email or on a website. My issue with the Nigerian Fraud Email phenomena is that, being the most well-known scam in the digital era, covered by news programs, consumer rights shows, and even publications, how can it continue to pay off for the perpetrators?

Perpetrating Identity Theft

It is, of course, a standard phishing trick, giving the fraudsters access to your bank account or leaving enough information for them to take your identity.

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These emails typically require (and I quote):

  • Name, phone, account, and fax numbers of your banker
  • Your own phone and fax numbers – for privacy and ease of contact.
  • Your letterhead should be stamped and signed.

For years, I’ve advised people to report and delete any email demanding personal information. The issue I’m having is that with spam email systems as good as they are now (and, to be fair to Windows Live, a short search through my Junk folder shows numerous others, one addressed to me by surname!) It seemed implausible to me that the fraudsters would employ this same strategy again and again. So, what are they thinking?

Is There More to the “Nigerian Scam Emails”?

It was recently suggested to me that there might be something more to these emails than obviously humorous efforts to defraud money.

Another reason I’m growing more skeptical about the genuine substance of these communications is how they’re presented. Would an internet criminal send emails to everyone who knows English if the document was riddled with spelling errors, especially if it seemed to be from an authoritative source?

The producers of these communications might have them examined for grammatical problems and formatting in a variety of ways. There are services available online that use automated solutions or live, breathing people to check these details; freelancing marketplaces are regularly visited by coders happy to clone a website and “article rewriters,” so I can’t imagine it would be difficult to find someone willing to revise the message while remaining silent.

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So, what exactly is going on? Could these signals be a hint of anything more? Is it a hidden message, broadcast in mass in order to discover the proper recipient regardless of the email account he or she uses – excuse me for being all James Bond?

It may seem a bit far-fetched, but so does the idea that people still fall for the fraud. Spies used to employ all sorts of techniques to communicate with their contacts back in the Cold War era and prior, from arranging fallen twigs in a park to highlighting letters with an invisible solution that only the contact could activate.

With this in mind, don’t the Nigerian scam emails seem significantly more dangerous? Is a terrorist organization in contact with a cell? Are the signals being delivered by a foreign government to undercover officers in the United Kingdom or North America?

Do People Really Fall for These Scams?

Whether these emails are part of a much more serious scheme than theft or are merely relics of a time when internet security was something that other people cared about, the fact remains that they are still being sent.

Someone, somewhere, is anticipating a comeback of some kind – and in the meanwhile, we’re all supposed to rally behind Western governments who are more interested in Internet censorship under the pretense of protecting copyright (of course, that’s a whole other debate). Instead of catering to big business, wouldn’t all of this work be better spent establishing a safer online environment for normal users, teaching them about appropriate and lawful web usage, and dealing with the problem of online fraud?

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Naturally, it would. Whatever the reality is about Nigerian Spam Emails, they’re still showing up in inboxes and garbage folders, boosting identity theft and probably containing more information than the untrained eye can see.

So what do you think – scam or spy?

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