Why Do so Many Online Scams Come Out of Nigeria?


Quick Answer

Nigeria emerged as the center of the online scam world due to its poor population, corrupt government, access to the Internet and a large criminal underworld that developed concurrently with the Internet, according to Mother Jones and the Eureka Times-Standard. Online money-transfer scams are sometimes called "Nigerian scams."

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Every Internet user has surely received at least one email purportedly from someone in Nigeria willing to share a large sum of money if the user provides banking information and a small cash advance. These scams, the Eureka Times-Standard reports, took off in Nigeria largely because Africa's highest-population nation entered into an economic crisis beginning in the 1980s throughout a time frame that mirrored the development of the Internet. Those formerly employed in oil and other industries needed ways to make money, and they had already developed contacts for less-than-legal business transactions, so an Internet-centered criminal underworld developed targeting Americans and other foreigners as easy marks.

According to the Eureka Times-Standard, 65 percent of Nigerians subsist on an income of less than $1 per day. Nigeria's national language is English, and while most Nigerians use other languages on a day-to-day basis, many are literate in English as part of a culture dating back to British colonial roots, according to the U.S. English Foundation. Wealthy Americans made particularly good targets, especially in an era when the masses were just becoming familiar with the Internet, Mother Jones reports.

Along with "Nigerian Scams," the Eureka Times-Standard and Mother Jones refer to such tactics as "419 scams," so named for the Nigerian criminal code pertaining to their prosecution. Two scammers interviewed by Mother Jones said they spend 30 percent of their profits on government bribes.

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