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Nigerian gold or Olympic gold, the scam’s the same

The Nigerian Gold scam has a new form, with emails having subjects like, “DEAR LUCKY WINNER LONDON 2012 OLYMPIC GAMES LOTTERY PROGRAM!!!” and, “LONDON OLYMPICS 2012 INTERNET LOTTERY PROMOTION”. So far in February this type of spam is showing a 43% increase over January in average daily volume.

Many events in the London Olympics were oversubscribed and tickets are in fact being allocated by a lottery system. This means anyone who has ordered tickets and is not using an effective spam filtering system will stand a good chance opening one of these messages if they receive it. Inside, the victims are told they have won $1,500,000 (or sometimes £1,000,000) and all they have to do is fill out this simple form with personal details. They may then either find their bank accounts cleared out or be asked for a series of advance fees to enable them to claim their reward. In more extreme forms of the Nigerian scam, some victims were persuaded to travel to Nigeria where they were kidnapped and held for ransom.

Variations of the advance fee scam have been around since the late 18th Century, but the arrival of the Internet has provided a vast new avenue for the corrupt and unscrupulous to beguile the naive and credulous. But surely everyone knows about it by now? It’s even been lampooned by comics from Flight of the Conchords to Dilbert. So why, if everyone knows about it, are the spammers still in business?

The answer lies in the demographics of the Internet. There are somewhere around two billion Internet users world wide and that number is growing by at least a hundred million every year. While some people have been taken for hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars hoping to get money out of Nigeria, let’s assume very conservatively that the average take is a mere five thousand dollars, and that only one person in ten thousand is gullible enough to fall for this. That still means that there are potential earnings of at least fifty million dollars a year just from people new to the Internet.

Aside from effective spam filtering, next best defense against this scam is education, so here are a few handy tips to inoculate new Internet users:

  • Your long lost grandfather did not emigrate to Nigeria.
  • You can’t win a lottery without buying a lottery ticket.
  • People with millions of dollars in hand can usually spell and punctuate correctly.
  • Finally, a precept from Sir Terry Pratchett: “Multiple exclamation marks are a sure sign of a diseased mind.”

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