by Tolu Orekoya
The short answer: the scam artists want only the most gullible people to reply their e-mails, because they are the easiest to scam.
The words “419”, “Nigerian princes” and “scam e-mails” have become synonymous with Nigeria’s presence on the internet. The scam e-mails have become a popular internet meme, that most people don’t even open such e-mails anymore, much less read the subject.
Once in a while though, stories still crop up of unsuspecting individuals who get lured into transferring their wealth to the 419 scam artists toiling away at the internet café to milk as many victims as possible.
Microsoft Research employee Cormac Haley asked why they are still so successful, even though almost everyone is aware of the scam. And the reason is simple: they are looking for the exceptionally gullible victims, those who would believe almost anything. He threw a lot of mathematical trickery at the subject, but basically when they do find their victim, grooming them and making them susceptible to opening their wallets can take months, so getting a target who is most likely to hand over their money is necessary.
Read an excerpt from Gizmodo:
Cormac Herley from Microsoft Research has been digging into the problem. He specializes in machine learning, and has thrown a hell of a lot of maths at analyzing the emails and their success rate. Fortunately, his finding is easy enough to understand: the scammers aren’t interested in seeming believable. They just want to find the most gullible victims they can, to maximize their return on their effort.
While sending emails is cheap for the scammers, you see, following through with responses and then initiating the process of getting money out of victims is both labor-intensive and expensive. So they want to wheedle out only those victims that they know they can scam from the off.From Herley’s paper:
“[I]f the goal is to maximize response to the email campaign it would seem that mentioning ‘Nigeria’ (a country that to many has become synonymous with scams) is counter-productive. One could hardly choose a worse place to claim to be from if the goal is to lure the unwary into email communication…
“Since gullibility is unobservable, the best strategy is to get those who possess this quality to self-identify. An email with tales of fabulous amounts of money and West African corruption will strike all but the most gullible as bizarre. It will be recognized and ignored by anyone who has been using the Internet long enough to have seen it several times. It will be figured out by anyone savvy enough to use a search engine and follow up on the auto-complete suggestions [of search engines]. It won’t be pursued by anyone who consults sensible family or fiends, or who reads any of the advice banks and money transfer agencies make available. Those who remain are the scammers ideal targets. They represent a tiny subset of the overall population.”
Source: ComputerWorld via Gizmodo
Comic: As credited