Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why Email Scammers Say They're From Nigeria

You've seen the email. A terminally ill Nigerian prince or director of a massive corporation contacts you urgently asking you to move a large sum of money, promising you can keep a share. All you need to do is provide your credit card number and banking PIN. It looks like a scam, sounds like a scam -- it is a scam. But who on earth actually believes these things? If you've ever wondered why these scams are so blatant, here’s why. If you, like thousands of others, were just too smart for your attacker and saw through the tricky plot - it simply means that you were never the target anyway. A recent study found that email scammers really aren't interested in appearing believable because it would just be too expensive if everyone fell for it. The research conducted by Microsoft’s Machine Learning Department, titled "Why do Nigerian scammers say they are from Nigeria?" found that the OTT scam email, complete with typos is a simple, cost effective way of weeding out intelligent people, leaving only the most gullible to hit.
"Far-fetched tales of West African riches strike as comical," wrote principal researcher, Cormac Herley in the study. "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 the 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 ration in his favor.” It seems to work. Just last year a Nigerian man was jailed for 12 years after scamming US$1.3 million. In 2008 an Oregon woman lost $400k to a similar scam. So next time you open a scam email and think to yourself: "Why bother?" live happy in the knowledge you're not the target market.