Why are Nigerian Email Scams so Obvious?

by Christina DesMarais for Techlicious

Why are Nigerian Email Scams so Obvious?

If you have an email account, you’ve almost certainly received an e-mail from a Nigerian scammer promising to pay you thousands or even millions of dollars if only you’ll loan them some money until funds in some locked up account are freed. It’s been going on for years, with the latest variant involving a Nigerian astronaut supposedly trapped in space for 14 years!

Here’s the desperate plea from the “astronaut’s cousin”:

In the 14-years since he has been on the [space] station, he has accumulated flight pay and interest amounting to almost $15,000,000 American Dollars. This is held in a trust at the Lagos National Savings and Trust Association. If we can obtain access to this money, we can place a down payment with the Russian Space Authorities for a Soyuz return flight to bring him back to Earth. I am told this will cost $3,000,000 American Dollars. In order to access his trust fund we need your assistance [read: money].

Now, who would believe this silly story? Not many, it turns out. So why are these scams so crudely written? Are the scammers really that unsophisticated? Quite the opposite, according to Microsoft.

“Far-fetched tales of West African riches strike most as comical. Our analysis suggests that is an advantage to the attacker, not a disadvantage. Since his attack has a low density of victims the Nigerian scammer has an over-riding need to reduce false positives (people who don’t fall for it). 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,” writes Microsoft researcher Cormac Herley, in a report.

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This excerpt appears with the permission of Techlicious.

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