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Who Made That Nigerian Scam?

[2018年4月17日] 来源:纽约时报 作者:DANIEL ENGBER   字号 [] [] []  

The Nigerian scam may seem like a scourge of the Internet age, but it actually predates email. Before we started getting all-caps proposals in our inboxes, con men in West Africa plied their trade by fax and paper letter. Some of the first scams to make their way to Western Europe arrived by telex in 1989 and 1990, when businessmen in Britain started hearing that a wayward tanker of Nigerian crude could have its cargo claimed for bargain prices — in exchange, of course, for some cash upfront. Before then, Nigerian fraudsters aimed their grifts at locals. One scheme was the “wash-wash,” a literal money-laundering in which the mark is shown a valise of supposed bills blackened with Vaseline and iodine and promised a cut if he pays for an expensive cleaning agent.


Advance-fee or 419 scams, known by the section of the Nigerian criminal code that outlaws fraud, took on a global character when oil prices crashed along with the national economy. A newly installed military ruler, Ibrahim Babangida, cut salaries for civil servants and the military and ended price supports for the local currency. Within three years, the country’s inflation rate was greater than 38 percent. The English-speaking, entrepreneurial class found itself with little buying power and in need of foreign money. “Some of these guys came out and started perpetrating fraud,” says Andrew Apter, an Africa historian at U.C.L.A. “They used the language and insignias and letterhead of financial offices to lure people in.”

正如在尼日利亚刑法有关诈骗的章节中所描述的那样,伴随着油价下跌与国内经济的衰退,预付款也就是所谓的419骗局正在呈现出国际化的特点。最新任命的军方统帅易卜拉欣·巴班吉达(Ibrahim Babangida),削减了政府工作人员和军队的薪酬,并且取消了对本地货币的价格支持。不到三年时间,这个国家的通货膨胀率就超过了38%。那些说英语的企业家阶层于是意识到他们严重不足的购买力和对外币的需求。“他们中的一些人动了邪念,开始行骗,”安德鲁·爱普特(Andrew Apter)说,他是加州大学洛杉矶分校的一名非洲历史学家。“他们利用其语言、头衔,以及印有金融机构抬头的信纸作为诱饵去实施诈骗。”


Apter has traced this sort of misuse of official iconography as far back as a century. When Nigeria was established as a colony under British rule in 1914, its first governor cracked down on scammers in fake uniforms who claimed to be collecting taxes on behalf of the empire. The advance-fee scam itself — whereby payments are extracted from a sucker who hopes to gain an enormous treasure — seems to have originated elsewhere. According to Robert Whitaker, a historian at the University of Texas, an earlier version of the con, known as the Spanish Swindle or the Spanish Prisoner trick, plagued Britain throughout the 19th century.

爱普特已经将这种对官方形象的滥用追溯到一个世纪之前。当1914年尼日利亚刚刚作为大英帝国的殖民地存在时,它的第一届执政者就曾经镇压过那些穿着假制服声称代表帝国收税的骗子们。预付款骗局本身——也就是从那些希望获取巨额财富的受骗者那里得到支付——似乎起源于别处。罗伯特·惠特克(Robert Whitaker)是得克萨斯大学的历史学家,据他所说,这种诈骗的早期版本,也就是所谓的西班牙骗局(Spanish Swindle)或者西班牙囚徒把戏(Spanish Prisoner Trick),在整个19世纪都困扰着大不列颠。

These days, an address in Lagos would seem to be a red flag for prospective dupes, but it may be helpful for some scammers. In 2012, a researcher with Microsoft named Cormac Herley tried to model the con artist’s behavior and concluded that a clear tip-off — an email address in Nigeria, for example — could, by scaring off the savvier or more suspicious sorts, enable them to focus on the most gullible victims.

如今,一个来自尼日利亚的邮件地址很像是给潜在受骗者的一个警示信号,但这也可能成为其它诈骗案件的帮凶。2012年,一个叫科马克·赫利(Cormac Herley)的微软研究员试图去模拟那些骗子的行为并且得出了一个清晰的结论——譬如说,一个来自尼日利亚的邮件地址——通过吓走那些更为机敏或谨慎的人群,反而可以让骗子们专注于那些最容易上当的受害者们。



In 2003, Mike Berry was a 41-year-old computer engineer in Manchester, England, when he started replying to Nigerian scammers over email for fun. His website, 419eater.com, provides a forum for likeminded “scam-baiters” and an archive of their most outrageous achievements.

2003年,迈克·贝里(Mike Berry)还是英国曼彻斯特一个41岁的电脑工程师,他出于好玩开始在邮件里回复尼日利亚的骗子们。他的网站419eater.com,为志同道合的“骗局捕手”们提供了论坛并且存档了他们最为惊人的成果。

After 10 years, are you still an active scam-baiter? I dabbled about five or six months ago — I like to keep my hand in. But in my heyday, it wasn’t unusual for me to have 15 or 30 scammers on the line at the same time. I’ve dealt with about 4,000 or 5,000 scammers since I started.


It sounds like a full-time job. It’s not really that tricky, if you’re good at accounting for where everything’s going. You’ll find a lot of scammers will twig straightaway and drop you like a hot cake. . . . You may only get 10 percent who will stick with you for a decent period of time.


So that’s your success rate — 10 percent? That’s for what we could call a decent success, either a long period of time keeping the guy busy, or what we would call a trophy. You know, like a funny picture, carvings, things like that.


It sounds as if you’re even better at this than they are. I’d be able to do a really good job, I think. I haven’t for one second contemplated doing that, of course. . . . I do remember I sent a scammer a fake passport, and it was such a good fake that at the end of the scam-bait, when he realized what had happened, he sent me an email and basically admitted to everything he was trying. He said that he was quite a high-up scammer, and he offered me a deal. He would pay me $12,000 a month for 10 passports to be created. You’ve got to think of what this guy must have been earning to offer me that kind of money!




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