Why do scammers persist in saying they are from Nigeria?

A research report by Cormac Herley, a Microsoft security analyst, proposes a clever response to an apparent paradox. Nearly everyone minimally competent in Internet use knows about the Nigerian 419 scam. For the few others, this is the con: an unsolicited email arrives in your inbox, purporting to be a letter from an attorney who informs the receiver that a large fortune can be made. The attorney needs the help of a person outside Nigeria to transfer large amounts of money abroad, and offers generously to share the boon with this co-operator. The scam works when a victim contacts the conmen and is persuaded to send advance payments to facilitate the alleged financial transactions. Many have fallen for this trick, losing thousands of dollars (and sometimes more) in the process. Smart email security filters most of these emails and most of us delete those that appear in our Inbox even without opening them or reading more than a few lines because we are “in the know”.

If the scam is so well-known, why don’t perpetrators change their routine?

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Snipe hunters of preys with low epistemic vigilance

What weapon would you use to hunt a dahu? Where would you start looking for a Volkswagen Beetle radiator hose? Does elbow grease come in cans or tubes? You shouldn’t even begin thinking about these questions because they are just introductions into elaborate hoaxes. Dahus are fictional deers said to be adapted to the terrain of the Alps by having the feet on mountain side shorter than the feet on the valley side. The Beetle has an air-cooled engine and does not have a radiator. Elbow grease is a metaphor for strenuous manual labour. What makes these ficticious items successful cultural replicators? How can we explain the occurrence of “snipe hunt” in so many different social settings across the world?


During my fieldwork in a Romanian village, I spent some time as an apprentice in a construction team.When one of our workmates accidentally broke a wooden plank, he was sent by the master builder to search for an “acacia electrode” to weld it back into one piece. One evening during after-work drinks, the team managed to convince a young villager that his skills as swimmer were needed early next morning, when the team was to build a dam on one of Romania’s largest rivers. These practices are part of a cross-cultural set of practical jokes called the fool’s errand or the snipe hunt.

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