Pining for the fjords…

At Global Voices we’re excited about cross-cultural encounters, moments where people from different countries start talking to one another on common issues, like the dialog that took place between Chinese and African bloggers at the Hibiscus project meeting this past December in Delhi, or the cooperation between Indian and Pakistani bloggers to evade blog censorship.

But not all cultural encounters are quite so friendly. Millions of internet users around the world have learned about crime in Nigeria through cross-cultural encounters of the spammy kind. The interaction between “yahoo-yahoo boys” – young Nigerian men who make a living by sending 419 scam emails – and their victims in wealthier countries reveals some interesting perspectives on the situation. Some of the people involved with 419 (advance fee fraud) see their victims as deserving their fate due to their greed and their comparative economic advantage. Despite the damage 419 is doing to Nigeria’s international economic reputation, some Nigerian musicians and comedians are finding it fertile group for parody, including Osuofia and his wonderful song, “I Go Chop Your Dollar” (below).

There’s a movement online of “scammer baiters“, who attempt to “fight back” by leading on 419 scammers, attempting to get them to waste their time and engage in humiliating behaviors in the hopes of making money. They argue that this is justified, since the people they’re humiliating are criminals. One could also argue that these scammer baiters are basically tormenting desperate, poor people for their personal enjoyment.

So it’s with mixed emotion that I link to the funniest piece of scammer baiting I’ve seen so far. A scambaiter responded to a 419 email – a scam in which the author claimed to be dying of cancer, wanting to distribute his fortune. The scambaiter told the West African authors that he was a film producer and was offering scholarships for African filmmakers – to be eligible for a scholarship, they’d need to produce their version of a scene from television.

And hence, we now have: the Scam Version of the Monty Python “Dead Parrot” Sketch:

Ah, the communication the internet enables: Nigerian comedians can make fun of greedy Americans and western pranksters can make fun of West Africans. Not all cross-cultural interaction makes you want to sing “Kumbaya”. But I gotta say – these guys do a great Monty Python sketch, and I think they’ve got a future…

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6 Responses to Pining for the fjords…

  1. Rob says:

    It is a common fallacy that these Nigerian email scammers are poor. They are not. They earn an extremely good living from their scamming lifestyle, a living that normal law abiding Nigerians can only dream of. Is this stolen wealth filtered down to their follow countrymen who are in desperate now of it? No.

    The average about scammed by these types of people is just under £32,000, hardly a pittance. And these guys are at it 24/7/365 sending out many thousands of scam emails a week. I am not sure people are aware of just hw much money is changing hands on a daily basis. It is pretty frightening when you read the facts.

  2. Ethan says:

    I’d very much like to see the “facts” you’re citing, Rob – they run quite counter to the story Abe McLaughlin wrote about scammers in Nigeria, linked above in my post. Abe based his reporting on visits to Nigerian cybercafes and interviews with some of the men involved with these scams – I’d be very interested to see the basis for the numbers you’re citing.

  3. mj says:

    My person favorite scammer-baiter has always been the work of ‘David Lee Roth’ (http://www.geocities.com/scamjokepage/). I agree with Rob above — for the most part, this is hardly a cause of ‘desperate, poor people’ being ‘tormented’ for ‘personal enjoyment’. Increasingly this is an organized crime thing.

    And then of course there is the Mark Whitacre saga, in which ADM tried to corner the global lysine market in part because Whitacre lost a bunch of money in a 419 scam (Kurt Eichenwald wrote about this in ‘The Informer’; if you don’t want to read the book, Matt Damon is playing Whitacre in the movie version).

  4. Mary says:

    Actually, there is a bit of kumbaya in this particular scambaiting story. The video humanizes the scammer by showing him as a real person (and Monty Python fan) rather than just a name at the end of a junk e-mail.

  5. Ethan,

    I have been following the dealings of the boys from Africa for over 10 years now. So I can confirm the fact that there are a lot “poor” Africans who are doing the 419 scam.

    All of this has to do with corruption, of which most Africans know a lot about. It is a part of their daily lives. As such they learn very quickly how people can be manipulated to part with their money.

    It’s this knowledge which puts them a step ahead of us, because most westerners have never had any dealings with graft or corruption in their daily lives. As such they don’t recognise it when they see it, maybe then when it’s too late. Initially, most people take the stories for face value.

    On the other hand there are enough “rich” Africans who have made a fortune doing this. There are a lot of Nigerian Polititians, Police Chiefs, Lawyers and Businessmen who have been or still are involved in this type of crime. They all have zero risk doing this!

    The victims, a lot of whom I have met, spoken to on the phone or mailed with, are of as various types as the crooks are. I have seen businessmen and lawyers go broke. Private people have lost fortunes and are forever in debt as well as seen people being taken hostage and injured.

    I could not always put greed as the driving factor behind the vitim’s decision to reply to the African’s e-mails. I saw mostly naivety, stupidness and ignorance.

    By the way, even calculating the profits very conservatively, I have come up with sums of 300 million US dollars a year. I suspect it to be at least 3 or 4 times that ammount though.

    Personally, I do not belive that Africa will produce a standard of living which we experience any time in the future. At least this centuary will not see any change in that.

    So this type of crime will continue to be a part of our world for some time to come.

    Michael

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