I write to inform you of my desire to acquire estates or landed properties in your country on behalf of the Director of Contracts and Finance Allocations of the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing in Nigeria.
Considering his very strategic and influential position, he would want the transaction to be as strictly confidential as possible. He further wants his identity to remain undisclosed at least for now, until the completion of the transaction. Hence our desire to have an overseas agent.
I have therefore been directed to inquire if you would agree to act as our overseas agent in order to actualize this transaction...
We've all seen them - the classic 419 emails. Whether they're requesting help in the administration of a dead millionaire's estate, or help for a poor daughter escaping her tyrannical parents, or some crazy religious type doing God's work and distributing wealth to his brothers, they're all forms of the same basic thing - fraud.
The specific term used to describe the deal is 'Advance Fee Fraud'. The scam originated, in its current form, in Nigeria, and the 419 name comes from the section of the Nigerian Criminal code that it violates. The basic premise is that a great amount of money is promised by the sender of the email to the recipient, if the recipient will just do a few little things to help the pair get access to it. These tasks often include sending passports, paying bank charges, paying taxes, etc. The end result is always the same: the hopeful recipient gets nothing, and the fraudulent sender ends up with something extra in his pocket.
It is unfortunate that, in this world, people always expect to get something for nothing, and so it's been reported that the scam is, considering the bad press it's had, relatively successful. There are tales of people going after their money in Nigeria, and the US government suggests that many more are stung than report the crime to the authorities, meaning that the £15m lost in 2003 is something of an underestimate. The problem is so big now that the Nigerian Government have enlisted the help of Microsoft to try and restore the country's damaged reputation.
Not the only form of madness
There are many variations on the 419 scam, and the ease with which the internet provides anonymity means that online fraud is on the increase. It might be emails telling you to change your eBay or Paypal password, or fake banks phishing for your details. Scammers want your money, and despite the seriousness of the crime, many police forces around the world are severely underfunded when it comes to cybercrime. The international nature of the crime also makes it difficult to prosecute.
With authorities often having their hands tied, what to do? Well, a group of online enthusiasts are taking matters into their own hands and are doing what they can to get the scammers taken down. Allow me to introduce - the Artists against 419.
Who are the Artists Against 419? They are a group of people who are fed up with the prevalence of fraud on the internet. As they state on their website,
"Artists love the internet - with the exception of spam! There is only one thing that we hate more than spammers: 419 scammers abusing the internet... These criminals abuse our mailboxes by sending 419 emails, they abuse our guest books by leaving their MUGU entries and they abuse this media by building web sites for criminal fake companies."
The Artists have clubbed together and are working to take down the spammers.
The Artists Against 419 are all volunteers. We dedicate our time, for free, to killing fake banks on the Internet, and maintaining the most comprehensive database of fake banks in the world. At the last count 4,857 fake banks were listed in our database, and it’s updated daily. Our complaint letters and Flash Mobs mean that 4,334 of those fakes have now been taken off the internet. We’re working on the remaining ones as you read this.
To do this, they're using Flash Mobs. You will surely have heard about Flash Mobs in the physical space, but AA419 have taken the concept and applied it to the virtual space.
How so? To explain more, we spoke to Kanshi Ng, spokesman for the Artists, and asked him to explain the group in his own words.