Nigerian Princes: Scientifically Designed to Identify Idiots

Brad Chacos

Oh, those wacky Nigerian princes and their tales of lost fortunes. If only they had your help! But they don't, of course, because anybody with half a brain can see through the scam. And that's the key to the scheme, one Microsoft researcher says in a 14 page report about Nigerian scams; the fantastic stories serve to screen out skeptical folks, leaving the scammers free to pick off the low-hanging fruit that responds to wild emails from African royalty.

The abstract to Cormac Herley's " Why do Nigerian Scammers Say They are from Nigeria? " sums things up nicely, followed by a ton of probability checks, algebra and graphs to back up his big talk:

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. 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 .

The scammers have to spend a lot of time exchanging emails with possible victims, Herley goes on to explain. By enticing savvy folks (like Maximum PC readers) into quickly tossing ridiculous scam emails into the junk folder, the criminals maximize their potential profit by focusing their efforts on gullible grandmothers with a taste for snake oil.

If you don't mind tl;dr reports that are peppered with math, be sure to check out the full report. It's an interesting read. Props to [H]ardOCP for pointing it out !

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