On Shoddy Emails from Nigerian Royalty

Last week in a post (almost) entirely unrelated to the subject, I made a joke about the emails I am sure all of our readers have received from purported members of the Nigerian royal family promising riches with no strings attached. One of the hallmarks of such messages is the inherent shoddiness of quality on exhibit. There are misspellings, grammatical errors, strange email addresses and implausible plots which make the messages more humorous than dangerous to most. However, it appears that this shoddiness serves a purpose.

New research from Cormac Herley of Microsoft Research* suggest that the outrageous stories and poor writing in these emails serve the purpose of weeding out all but the most gullible of targets. In other words scammers take pride in their poor work because those who respond when something is so clearly off are the most likely to continue falling for the trap. I suppose it is another example of the virtual world and the physical world becoming ever more similar; as Amarillo Slim once said, "If you're at a poker table and don't see the sucker, it's you."

There are obvious legal implications of these situations. Internet scamming, no matter how gullible the rube, is illegal. That said, cross-border police action specifically, and policing of the internet, more generally, obviously come with difficulties. However, as suggested in an Economist article on the topic, there could be an economic/social solution:

One implication of Mr Herley's work is that a little bit of public-spirited scam-baiting—wasting the fraudsters' time by pretending to be a potential victim—can increase the scammers' costs and undermine their business model. For those with some time to spare, joining a cyber-posse may offer an amusing way to make the world a safer place.


*Who Do Nigerian Scammers Say They Are From Nigeria- research.microsoft.com/pubs/167719/whyfromnigeria.pdf


  1. Poker Online
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    1. Anonymous24/7/12 19:22

      Thank you, Mr. Poker Online, for illustrating the point.

    2. Thanks for this comment. Couldn't have said it better myself!