Interview with a Nigerian 419 scammer

The British Scam Detective site conducted a three-part interview with a self-identified reformed Nigerian 419 scammer, who described how the scams work. Scam Detective has a disclaimer on these posts to the effect that the facts can't be verified, so take them for what they're worth -- it's still fascinating reading.

Scam-Detective: How did you get involved in scamming people on the Internet?

John: I come from a poor family in Lagos, Nigeria. We did not have very much money and good jobs are hard to find. I was approached to work for a gang master when I was 15, because I had done well in school with my English, and was getting to be good with computers. The gang master was offering good money and I took the chance to help my family.

Scam-Detective: Do you think that your teachers at school had reported your talents to the gang master?

John: Yes. There is a lot of corruption in Nigeria and the gangs pay well to find people with good English skills to work the scams...

John: First you need to understand how the gangs work. At the bottom are the "foot soldiers", kids who spend all of their time online to find email addresses and send out the first emails to get people interested. When they receive a reply, the victim is passed up the chain, to someone who has better English to get copies of ID from them like copies of their passport and driving licenses and build up trust. Then when they are ready to ask for money, they are passed further up again to someone who will pretend to be a barrister or shipping agent who will tell the victim that they need to pay charges or even a bribe to get the big cash amount out of the country. When they pay up, the gang master will collect the money from the Western Union office, using fake ID that they have taken from other scam victims.

Interview with a scammer: Part one, Part two, Part three

(via Schneier)

(Image: The scam truck, a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike image from jepoirrier's photostream)


  1. Scam Detective had better hope he didn’t switch over to 809 scamming or they’ll be getting an unpleasant surprise in their next telephone bill.

  2. Sadly, while it is better than some others in providing explanations for behavior, this post joins with a slew of other Boing Boing posts (as evidenced by the list appended at the end of the text) that contributes to a sensationalized, unbalanced view of Nigeria. I hope that several ideas may be taken into consideration when we think about Nigerian crime:

    (1) Not all Nigerians are scam artists (just as, in the wake of Umar Abdulmutallab’s folly, not all Nigerians are terrorists). In fact, most Nigerians (like most people in countries all over the world) are good, decent, law abiding, hard working people.

    (2) Many places around the world are not privileged or fortunate to have enough wealth to even *have* a recession. The country was pilloried and plundered for its wealth by colonists. Then, after the colonialists, it was pilloried and plundered by warlords and dictators formerly connected to the British region. The violence borne of religious conflict surrounding Islam drains resources. Many sections of Nigeria face these struggles. Poor children struggle for the kind of basic material wealth that is common in America and Europe. This alleged reformed scam artist’s description of gang indoctrination at a young age, and the correlation between poverty and crime rings very true to me. Youth all over the world are deeply impressionable, especially disadvantaged youth.

    (3) I’ve often thought that putting the name of a country next to a person is a gross reduction. If you say “American person” then you are really not saying much because there is so much diversity here in the US. Likewise, there is incredible diversity in Nigeria: many ethnic groups, many languages, many ways of life, many religions. It would help to know where this man says that he came from within the country. Even hearing or reading the names of particular locales dispels the weak view of Nigeria as a monolithic, homogeneous locale.

    (4) It may be hard for some to believe, but Nigeria does have a strong law enforcement system (used in the past for political ends, but strong nonetheless). Law enforcement has cut down on crimes of fraud vigilantly over the years. Read about it here (though the tone of this piece is slightly condescending, as if it is somehow surprising that Nigeria even has a legal system):

    So there you have it. A list of reasonable thoughts that you may adopt when faced with the sensationalization of one country’s bad parts.

    I hope that Cory and the other editors may be more thoughtful in the future and balance their posts about Nigeria and Africa in general with good news about the cultures in my home country.

    1. Perhaps a more balanced view like the one referenced in your link that described how well the problem is being handled “We expect that Eagle Claw as conceived will be 100 percent operational within six months and at full capacity, it will take Nigeria out of the top 10 list of countries with the highest incidence of fraudulent e-mails,” Waziri said. And the following sentence in the same article. “Indeed, if you live outside of Africa, Nigeria is practically synonymous with various scams, some of which predate the Internet.”

      1. …vn ccrdng t “Jhn’s” ccnt h ws rrstd by Ngrn thrts nd mprsnd. S hr s crckdwn n Ngr bt ths.

        My pnt s ths: hw mny psts frm th dtrs r gst dtrs n Bng Bng dl wth “WNDRFL THNGS” cncrnng FRC?!

        Nt mny.

        Tm fr sm frcn wndrfl thngs, nd nt jst th slw f psts bt ssmd frcn pthlgy.

        Ths s wht t s lk t hv n frcn prsn rd ths blg nd sk fr bttr blnc nd nclsn. Prhps y wll tk my thghts nt cnsdrtn.

        1. Well, sir, if you use that Google window on the main boingboing page (as I have just done, being curious), you will find that the of the first 10 results for “Africa,” six are positive, one is neutral, one deservedly mocks Bono and is not really about Africa, and two are negative. Of results 11-20, nine are positive and one is negative/silly.

          It’s not all bad news here! Compare to Canada, which is 10 for 10 negative.

          It’s comparing a whole continent to one country (which fills half a continent), but you get the idea.

    2. Nigeria does have a strong law enforcement system

      Leading the world in extrajudicial killings is not something to boast about. Nigeria’s law enforcement system is a government sanctioned murder gang.

  3. He claims 9 or 10 replies out of every thousand, then 1 successful scam out of every 20 replies.

    First of all, I’m astounded that as many as 1% of people emailed reply. How dumb are people?

    Then 5% of all replies generate money…

    So, on average one email out of every 2000 emails generates money down the line. That’s still insanely high, and if true, shows why this is so lucrative. It also speaks to the stupidity of many internet users.

    Plus…when you think of the many hoops you need to jump and stages used to build trust etc…at what point *doesn’t* the penny drop?

  4. @ dabulamanzikuti

    yeah – for example the shockingly patronising postscript to that interview:

    “At the conclusion of part 2 of this interview, I said that “John” should feel guilt for the rest of his life for what he has done to his victims. I recognise that this was anger talking and I should not have said it. “John” seems to be an intelligent, articulate young man who, with the right guidance and influences, could put his considerable talents to good use. If he continues his education and is able to put his past behind him and pursue a worthwhile and rewarding career then he could achieve this. He could, however, just as easily slip back into the high risk/reward lifestyle that experienced in his youth and spend the rest of his life in and out of prison. I hope that his choices lead him down the right path.”

    1. Indeed, at the end of the 2nd part, the interviewer got a bit assholey at “John”. He (“Scam Detective”) lost my sympathy there.

      Scam Detective: […] I have seen plenty of scam emails that talk about dying widows who want to give their money to charity, or young people who are in refugee camps and need help to get out. You targetted vulnerable, charitable people as well as greedy businessmen, didn’t you? You didn’t care whether they could afford it or not, did you?

      John: Ok, you are right. I am not proud of it but I had to feed my family.

      Scam-Detective: And fund your BMW, mobile phones and laptops, let’s not forget about that

      Scam-Detective: […] The more I speak to you John, the less I like you.
      John: I know, I know. Don’t be angry with me. I’m not proud of what I have done and I am very sorry for everyone who sent money. If I could give it back I would.

      Scam-Detectives: But only if they sent you $1000 by Wire Transfer first? Ignore that.

      You know what Mr. Scam-Detective? Fuck you, man!

  5. I’ve read about people who tied up this scammers, replying to the email, pretending to be hooked, and then dragging on the “conversation”, wasting their time. He mentioned this in the interview.

    He also mentioned another better response. Some one told him he sent the money, and gave him fake wire transfer codes. Repeatedly. The 4th time his boss went to the bank to collect the money, the bank staff called the police and his boss had to run.

    I think this idea is a lot better. We should all do it. :)

  6. @5onthe5 I was shocked at the numbers he provided too. One thing that wasn’t asked in the interviews (or perhaps I missed it) was when he was involved in these schemes. He mentioned harvesting e-mail addresses from guestbooks and I don’t see too many of those on the internet these days. He also mentioned being sentenced to 2 years in jail. I suspect that his information is somewhat out of date. I would hope that improved e-mail filtering and general education of users has at least helped reduce the easy of finding victims. However, I’m sure that isn’t much comfort for those people who are still taken in by these scams.

  7. If you spend some time on 419eater, you’ll see that none of this is huge news. I kind of feel like this is just a story that was written to let people know how it works, and not a real interview.

    Regardless, this should be read by every non-savvy person.

  8. “I’m 23 years old and was released from prison in Nigeria in October last year where I served two years for fraud. I am now doing a business studies course at college…”

    Sounds about right. He should have a bright future in banking.

  9. Wonder what would happen if the IP block that was assigned to Nigeria was blocked by the routers and switches on the backbone of the Net? Not permanently, just for a few days or a couple of weeks..

  10. Spent some time lately dealing with various scammers specially with those offering au pair jobs or opportunities. I really hate how they hoodwink the gullible but when I got to read their side, I understand why they have to do this. But then, the outcome doesn’t justify the means. I still think he could have used his talents for good.

    Here’s a sample of my encounter with a scammer.

    1. Hehe, I had one the other day, it fit in a twitter post limit (quoting from memory): “Congratulations you have won lottery please reply name……address….DOB…”

      Yeah, sure!

  11. That was a very interesting article, and I appreciate the post. I always wondered how those scams worked.

    However, I can’t help but feel the article would have been better if the interviewer had been a little more professional in the second part. Losing your temper with the source is not a good way to conduct an interview.

  12. I had such a weird experience reading this… I can’t help feeling like the article and the website itself is setting up the reader to be scammed… like in part iv the interviewer will tell how this fella got into trouble and ask people to send money to help him. Did anyone else get that impression or am I just a jerk?


  13. …So you read the article, note how shitty a life the guy and his people have in what’s essentially a totally corrupt shithole, and you begin to really feel sorry for them. Then you get another five dozen 419s in e-mail, thus vindicating your original assessment that Nigeria needs to be nuked so heavily that the known universe will end before the glassed-over parking lot that used to be Nigeria even begins to show the *slightest* signs of dimming.

Comments are closed.