For anyone over the age of 30 you probably remember getting an email from a supposed Nigerian prince that needed help moving his money out of the country and only you could provide that help. All you had to do was provide your bank account information so that the money could be transferred away from greedy and corrupt government hands and you could keep some of that substantial total. It sounded too good to be true and it was but yet far too many people fell for it.

Roots of the scam

This actual scam was not born on the Internet, in fact it traces its roots back to the days well before the Internet to the 19th Century. Known as the Spanish Prisoner where a supposedly wealthy person has been imprisoned in Spain under a pseudonym. A “friend” would request that the victim raise money to free the prisoner and in return they would receive part of the fortune as well as the hand of that person’s beautiful daughter in marriage. Even after the mark put up the money requested there would be “complications” and more money would be requested. This would continue until the mark was broke or realized it was a con and stopped responding.

The modern day scam had its roots in Nigeria during the corrupt years of the Second Nigerian Republic. Supposedly wealthy members of the Royal Nigerian family used letters claiming that they needed to get their fortune out of Nigeria and requested help from unsuspecting marks. As technology improved the scam moved away from letters to faxes and eventually to email and the current state that we know it today with text messages and contact through social media.

Why Nigeria?

So why Nigeria? Nigeria at one point did have a royal family, or more accurately lots of royal families as numerous tribes and kingdoms made up the nation that we know today. They were displaced or conquered when the land became a part of the British Empire during the 19th century, which lasted until 1960 when Nigeria was granted its independence. Turmoil followed as a civil war erupted in the late 60s followed by a series of military juntas in the 70s, 80s and 90s before finally stabilizing in 1999. Today Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa and the largest economy on the continent.

Too many trusting people in the world

As it is today, Americans in the 1960s and 70s do not know much about what is going on around the world. Unlike today where it is easy to find out that there are no more royal families in Nigeria that was not possible in the pre-Internet days but with the turmoil going on in the country it sure made for a compelling and believable story. Trusting Americans as well as those of other nationalities fell victim to the scam. In 2002 over $1.5 billion was lost globally to this scam when 1% of the people who received these emails answered them.

These scams, known as advance fee scams or 419 scams (after the criminal statute in the Nigeria), are prevalent on the Internet as the scammer gets to hide behind the anonymity that the Internet offers or lives in a country that does not have an extradition treaty with the US making them safe from prosecution. That does not mean people here in the US did not help or run these scams with a Louisiana man being arrested in December 2017 for his part in the Nigerian Prince scam.

Are these really coming from Nigeria?

Internet security researchers have conducted counter scam tactics on these people in an attempt to gather information on them. The information found determined that these scams did not originate in Nigeria at all. Many of these scams instead came from South Africa with India, North Africa, China, Brazil and the US hosting the largest number of these unscrupulous people. As far as the Nigerian Prince scam goes the public is now well aware of this and for the most part it has fallen by the wayside, instead being replaced by several new ones. A crackdown is also starting to take place on many of these scams and it may be no surprise but many of those being arrested for alleged involvement in other scams are Nigerians nationals.

For the most part this scam has now been relegated to something to be laughed at as one of the more popular memes on the Internet. Just remember, if someone contacts you with an offer that is seemingly too good to be true, it probably is.

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