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New Yorker, The Perfect Mark investigates psychology behind Nigerian 419 Fraud

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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Each week I get about 2 or 3 e-mails from Africans who claim to have access to millions of dollars but need a westerner to help them transfer the money out of the country in return for a cut of the proceeds. It’s one of the most prevalent forms of spam I get and it’s certainly the more entertaining than the acres of leet-speak pharmaceutical sales. Like all spam, the 419 scam exists because of classic supply and demand. Our inboxes are full of this crap because somehow, somewhere some yahoo actually opens one of these e-mails and buys something. The 419 scams not only work, they’re remarkably successful, a tribute to their ingenuity and our national gullibility for get-rich-quick schemes.

The agency estimates that 419 swindlers gross hundreds of millions of dollars a year, not including losses by victims too embarrassed to complain. In February, the son of a prominent California psychiatrist named Louis A. Gottschalk—he identified what turned out to be early signs of Alzheimer’s in Ronald Reagan after analyzing his speech—filed suit seeking to remove his father from control over a family partnership, claiming that Gottschalk had lost more than a million dollars to Nigerian scammers. Some victims try to pass along their losses. The former Iowa congressman Edward Mezvinsky, who had refashioned himself as an international businessman, was caught up in a 419 scam, and during the nineteen-nineties stole from his law clients, friends, and even his mother-in-law to cover his losses. He is serving more than six years in prison after pleading guilty to thirty-one counts of fraud.

People who really ought to know better fall for these scams all the time. In a New Yorker article by Mitchell Zuckoff profiles the heart-breaking case of John Worley, a psychologist who nevertheless seems to have suspended all sense of ethics, religious conviction and common sense in the pursuit of a big score.

Read the article: The Perfect Mark

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