You've already gotten it.
You know what we mean. The e-mail that starts: "Hello and God bless you, I am the widow Gloria Abacha of Former President Sani Abacha, your help requesting ..."
Or maybe it starts, "We have most attractive work offer in international corporation ..."
Or: "I saw you profile and am instantly in love of you, I am Marie, of 24 years and God-fearing Christian ..."
So what if we told you that all the Internet scams in your mailbox came from just one place?
Welcome to Festac
Thirty years ago, Nigeria hosted a sort of African Expo called the Second World African Festival of Arts and Culture. The Nigerians built an Olympic Village for it near Lagos, the New York of Nigeria. After the festival, the government raffled off the properties to new residents, and the Fest
ival of A
rts and C
ulture Town was born.
Now a neighborhood of Lagos, the once-pristine Festac Town has lousy infrastructure, corrupt cops and virtually no drinkable water
What does it have? Cybercafes. Lots of them. They close early at night and open late the next day, and while they're closed, the "yahoo boys" do their work.
The Technical Term Is "Gotcha!"
Everyone calls it a 419 scam these days (from the pertinent section of the Nigerian Penal Code), but the technical term is advance-fee fraud
: You're promised a huge payoff (either in love or money) in exchange for cash up front.
Sometimes the upfront money is a "bank transfer fee" to get those funds that the dead dictator / billionaire / long-lost relative has deposited in your name. Sometimes it's for the plane ticket your Internet heartthrob needs to come see you. Sometimes it's for the visa you'll need to accept that amazing job offer with the multinational that's only just heard of your stellar video game abilities and wants to hire you right away. Whatever it is, you have to pay it right now.
To be fair, Nigeria isn't the only source of Internet rip-offs, or even the biggest. Nope, sorry, we are, here in the U.S
. (Recognize this guy
But Why? Why? Why?
The "Nigerian letter" scam is so common, and so obviously fake, that it's LOLcatted our mental refrigerators and is eating our attention. So why Lagos? Why Nigeria?
English helps -- it's both Nigeria's lingua franca
and the international language of scam. There's also a lot of talent there, with 25 percent unemployment among urban college grads, and more than 130 million Nigerian citizens. Nigeria is also recovering from a military dictatorship that encouraged a culture of corruption.
Then there's the price differential -- email is devastatingly cheap, and a yahoo boy can send out millions of them, limited only by the address lists he gets from email-extractor software. If even one of those letters hits in a month, he's sitting pretty: $5,000 goes a long way in Festac.
Finally, Festac has the long-distance service providers and document forgers
to take the scams one step further if you've found a real sucker.
Nigeria is starting to prosecute the scammers. But with the average American GDP per capita at $46,400 and the average Nigerian number at only $2,400, the Festac scammers are going to see us as rich suckers
for a good long time to come.
Ted Rabinowitz is an Asylum contributor who has also taken us to the city of beauty queens and a secret city of assassins.