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Dumb or Brilliant? The Nigeria Email Business Model

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If you’ve wondered—as I have—why those ubiquitous and clumsily-written emails from Nigeria “officials” still plague your inbox on an almost daily basis, it’s probably because it’s a business model that works.

Actually, the scam works brilliantly, according to an article from Inc., “Secrets of the Email Scammers.” It says there are “real business smarts” behind those noxious Nigerian emails: They must occasionally work, “or you wouldn’t still be receiving them.”

One can’t deny that logic, and it’s borne out by Microsoft research, which studied the effectiveness of inbox attacks.

In fact even though the Nigeria scam is really dumb the dumbness has a smart purpose. The setup is backed by solid business logic, and as Microsoft puts it, by solving a “binary classification problem.” Inc. says the Nigeria scammers use three important principles of effective advertising.

– Target buyers, not just people: “You can craft a cleverly worded plea and get thousands of responses. Or, you can scrawl a message with bad grammar, a third-world tie-in, and ridiculous claims of instant wealth that only the most gullible and uninformed will fall for.” It turns out that is exactly the person the scammers want to reach.

– Prequalify the customer: “The outlandish story pre-qualifies the potential victim in another key area–their willingness to ‘buy’ the scheme. Fraudsters need victims whose desire for wealth–whether greed or need–will overwhelm their common sense. The scammer’s promise of huge wealth is designed to hook folks willing to toss caution to the wind.”

– Weed out the time wasters: “For the Nigerian scammer, turning away the wrong person is probably as important as finding the right one. That’s why the scammer doubles down on the poor grammar and outrageous claims–he’s just making sure that you and I have absolutely no interest in responding.”

So it’s smart, dumb and crazy at the same time; whether by trial and error or sheer marketing brilliance, the Nigeria scammers have hit on a scheme that reels in their targets—the really gullible and uninformed—because as P.T. Barnum may or may not have said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

[Image: Royal Coat of Arms of Nigeria by James Provost via Flickr]

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Written by William DiBenedetto

6 August, 2012 at 2:00 am

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