Nigerian scams fascinate me. Due to my recent life circumstances, their mutations surround me. I posted on Craigslist because I want to rent out a room, only to discover the barrage of roommate scams. I joined Match.com (yes, ..oy), which is a veritable cesspool of scammers.
Nigerian Scam vs. Spanish Prisoner
Saying scammers come out like bugs in the night has disturbing racial overtones. Why did “Nigerian scam” stick instead of “Spanish Prisoner”? Nigerian scams, perpetuated by actual Nigerians but by others too, are more recent than others, and therefore the name is more relevant. Also, people today probably don’t resonate with the idea of a Spanish aristocrat languishing in a dungeon somewhere due to political unrest. The other name for the Nigerian scam is “advance fee fraud” because you advance the scammer money. Also not sticking. I have to wonder, then, if the racialized overtone doesn’t contribute to which name persists.
All scammers use a template. Once you identify the template, it’s easy to spot the scam. In general, the templates are blatantly obvious. Still, who the hell would send a stranger some money???? A lot of people! That, I don’t get.
Now on to the Match.com scams. I momentarily got addicted to the entire experience. You know the bug metaphor? I felt like pest control. I felt like it was my duty to root out and eliminate them. I went on a bug hunt. There were so many that I eventually gave up. Here’s the template:
- Of course, the broken English is a dead giveaway.
- The scammers tend to be from outside your geographic location; I assume this facilitates the scam because F2F contact can be perpetually deferred.
- When contacting you via chat or email, their greeting includes a term of endearment such as “lovely,” “pretty,” “beautiful,” and the like.
- They request your email or phone contact info immediately.
- They want to get you off of Match IMMEDIATELY and they ALWAYS want to chat via Yahoo, never any other service. I don’t understand the choice of Yahoo. Maybe someone can explain that.
- They avoid questions that require details about themselves or about concrete things that can’t be Googled. That’s a no-brainer. I read an interesting article about figuring out if you’re chatting with a chatbot, which is how I know to look for that cue. For a while I suspected these scammers were chatbots generated by Match to keep your interest and membership. This isn’t true, by the way.
- The profiles describe perfect romantic character traits without the personal details and the preferences are never completely filled out. Typically the looks, body build, age range, and lifestyle are “out of my league.” Think Hollywood. Occasionally they switch gender pronouns midstream since they are poorly edited boilerplates.
- The likes and dislikes section has some sort of bizarre “sensitive” thing in it, like “I love Oprah.”
- The profile disappears in a few days or even a few hours after contact.
Really, who falls for this crap? It seems to me anyone who is computer literate enough to get onto an internet dating site has got to be savvy enough to identify a Nigerian scam.
After my tenth or so interaction, I decided to test my theory and to see how the scam unfolded. I wanted to see how much information the scammer would reveal, or if I could trip him up. I also wanted to check for chatbots. So I engaged in a conversation. Two interesting things happened. First, I eventually challenged him so that he was off guard, and I basically said, “Your script is the same.” I listed the giveaways. “You’re obvious. You’re stupid. You need to mix it up some. Why is it that you people always want to go to Yahoo. What’s up with Yahoo anyway?” I really do want an answer to that question.
During this conversation, I reported the user profile ID to Match and it returned a message saying no such profile existed. Now, that concerned me. How could this person be chatting if the profile didn’t exist? I thought maybe there’s a spoof program or a hack? The Match help desk people were jerks about it. They followed their own script, basically advising me how to avoid getting scammed and warning me off of giving money or personal information. So, while I tell them I’m scam hunting and that a nonexistent member is chatting with me, they’re telling me not to send personal information. Does anyone see a problem in that????
Now, while I’m on the phone with Match help desk, I’m still IMing with the scammer. He’s trying to evade me and I’m feeling mighty proud of my sleuth skills. I tell him that I discovered that his profile didn’t exist. On the phone, Match tells me he probably closed it while chatting with me (makes sense…). The scammer then says, “You no mugu…” and promptly disconnects. Perplexing. What does that mean?
Mugu is Nigerian slang or pidgin for “Big Fool.” I have to wonder what that means. Is it a compliment? Or is it an ironic statement that I am indeed a mugu after all? I triple checked my pockets to see if they got picked.
Anyway, the roommate scams are equally amusing. Apparently naive college students are actually falling for it. There are warnings specifically about this scam posted on the roommate section on Craigslist by other advertisers. It’s the old advance fee standby where the scammer overpays with a fake money order and then requests a refund.
The emails are a stitch. So, here’s the first one I received in all its ESL glory – scroll over for my commentary, like on xkcd! These emails make me laugh, really laugh.
Thanks for getting back to me… My name is Belle Dale(F),I am 27yrs old,I am fun loving, personal, friendly,clean and respectful of others. A non-smoker, don’t do drugs, i drink occasionally,and drama free. I graduated last year in France. I am single and have no children… I do bible study, and sometimes we do karaoke night with my roommate! i go to church every Sunday. Am coming for my masters degree. I was born in France (Bordeaux), my dad is from USA but my mum is from Paris…I went to University of Bordeaux in France i speak both French and English ,am presently on research work at Guam USA), am almost done with the research. Am doing it because its part of prerequisite for my masters in Microbiology. I would have loved to call you but this is a remote area calls is hard to go through from here and i don’t want to waste much time.
Am really interested in renting from you and i don’t really love pets but i don’t care if there is any in the house. I would have loved to see it but am very far,but with pictures,I am glad. I will also like you to tell me more about you and if you have garage or parkingspace because I will have my own car come over, please let me know the total payment of the place and more over I will send your email to my dad for him to email you later because he is the one that will be paying the bills but nevertheless,I will like you to send me
Get back to me with the information to facilitate the mailing of the check.
= First Name:
= Last Name:
= Street Address:
= City, State, Zip Code:
= Cell Phone Number:
= Total Amount :
so that my Dad will issue out the payment for the place as soon as possible,with that you can hold on the place for me till i come. I will be looking forward to your email soonest. Thanks and have a nice day.
Now, most people seem to have caught on, but some don’t. I should have caught on immediately as soon as I read the first line or two because of the broken English and the overseas angle, but I received a couple of legitimate inquiries from international students so I wasn’t paying much attention. I made it past the bible part and all the way up to the karaoke part. I emailed back, because I like doing that, which you will know if you’ve read my other Nigerian scam entries. Other advertisers haven’t been as quick on the uptake:
I unsuspectingly replied to these fraudulent e-mails thinking they were legitimate roommates, but after several exchanges, my gut instincts told me better.
Several exchanges? Seriously? I’m glad word is out. It’s unfortunate because I do need a roommate and a microbiologist who speaks French would be neat. I’ll pass on the biblical karaoke part, though.