The 419 email scams, also known as Nigerian email scams, are a familiar frustration to anyone with an email address. The scams lure a victim by offering to share an investment opportunity or fortune they need the recipient’s help to obtain. They either ask for the recipient’s bank information or a small advance payment for travel or other expenses. Americans lost approximately $703,000 to these scams in 2018. While people carry these scams out from across the world, more than one-fifth of them originate in Nigeria. Here are five facts about Nigerian email scams and why they are so common today.

5 Facts About Nigerian Email Scams

  1. The Nigerian email scam has been around for centuries. In the late 16th century, Nigerian scammers would send letters to disenfranchised French people claiming to be the faithful servants of marquises murdered during the revolution. The letters explained that their masters left behind a large fortune and that they needed the recipient’s financial help to find it. Scammers then offered to split the fortune with recipients. According to a French detective of the time, the process was successful about one in every five attempts. People have adopted, adapted and passed this scam down for centuries.
  2. This scam escalated in the 1980s. When oil prices collapsed in the 1980s, Nigeria faced economic upheaval and increased government corruption. Literate, English-speaking Nigerians were now facing poverty and rising unemployment rates. This environment forced many to find unconventional ways of supporting themselves and their families. Through the 1980s, millions of paper 419 scams were sent across the world using counterfeit postage.
  3. Corruption enables the Nigerian email scam. Those who participate in the scam have little to no fear of being punished by Nigerian law enforcement. The Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Interpol and other law enforcement offices are easily avoided through bribery. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index, Nigeria has always been one of the most corrupt nations in the world. As Nigeria becomes more corrupt, resources become scarce and poverty increases. In 2017, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime considered corruption to be the third most important problem facing Nigeria, following the high cost of living and increased unemployment rates.
  4. Corruption equals poverty. Though the Nigerian government has made implemented large-scale poverty relief efforts, corruption, lack of continuity and absence of legal framework or policy often lead to the failure of these efforts. Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, the executive director of Transparency International’s Nigerian chapter, explains that many national relief efforts fail because they are conduits for siphoning public funds.
  5. Greed begets disillusionment. The government’s mismanagement of Nigeria’s oil riches led to 86.9 million Nigerians living in extreme poverty by November 2018. According to Apolitical, the level of corruption in Nigeria has led to public disillusionment and has undermined the legitimacy and effectiveness of the government and its law enforcement offices. This environment is the perfect breeding ground for the Nigerian email scam.

It is important to understand that Nigerian email scams are just one consequence of many larger issues. Today, the email scam is the butt of many jokes, causing others to forget or ignore Nigeria’s struggles with poverty and corruption altogether. Despite this, many some are making efforts to reduce poverty and invest in a brighter future for Nigeria, meaning one day these scams may no longer exist.

Caroline Warrick-Schkolnik
Photo: Pexels