ONLINE: Nigerians use computers in an Internet cafe in Lagos.Scams known as 419 for the statute outlawing them promise the victims riches and romance.When you get a reply, its 70% sure that youll get the money, a former scammer says.
Most recipients hit delete, delete, delete, delete without ever opening the messages that urge them to claim the untold riches of a long-lost deceased second cousin, and the messages that offer millions of dollars to help smuggle loot stolen by a corrupt Nigerian official into a U. The targets are called maghas — scammer slang from a Yoruba word meaning fool, and refers to gullible white people.
Samuel is 19, handsome, bright, well-dressed and ambitious. Until he quit the game last year, he was one of Festac's best-known cyber-scam champions.
Like nearly everyone here, he is desperate to escape the run-down, teeming streets, the grimy buildings, the broken refrigerators stacked outside, the strings of wet washing.
It's the kind of place where plainclothes police prowl the streets extorting bribes, where mobs burn thieves to death for stealing a cellphone, and where some people paint "This House Is Not For Sale" in big letters on their homes, in case someone posing as the owner tries to put it on the market.
They rationalize the crime by telling themselves there are no real victims: Maghas are avaricious and complicit.
To them, the scams, called 419 after the Nigerian statute against fraud, are a game.
Their anthem, "I Go Chop Your Dollars," hugely popular in Lagos, hit the airwaves a few months ago as a CD penned by an artist called Osofia: "419 is just a game, you are the losers, we are the winners.
It is where places like the Net Express cyber cafe thrive. until 7 a.m., so the cyber thieves can work in peace without fear of armed intruders.
The atmosphere of silent concentration inside the cafe is absolute, strangely reminiscent of a university library before exams. In this sanctum, Samuel says, he extracted thousands of American e-mail addresses, sent off thousands of fraudulent letters, and waited for replies.
He thinks disclosure of his surname could endanger his safety.
The e-mail scammers here prefer hitting Americans, whom they see as rich and easy to fool.