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By Jacqui Cheng | Published: August 22, 2008 - 10:40AM CT
People who fall for so-called "Nigerian scams" aren't victims at all—in fact, they're greedy and should be jailed, according to Nigerian high commissioner Sunday Olu Agbi. He said today that Nigeria has gained a bad reputation because of the scams perpetrated by a minuscule number of people, and that those who find themselves involved with the scams are equally as guilty as those running them.
"The Nigerian Government frowns very seriously on these scams... and every day tries to track down those who are involved," Olu Agbi told the Sydney Morning Herald in response to a previous article on Australians falling for Nigerian scams. "People who send their money are as guilty as those who are asking them to send the money."
Out of the 140 million people in Nigeria, Olu Agbi said that fewer than 0.1 percent were involved in Nigerian scams. The scams, also referred to as 419 scams or advance-fee fraud, predate the Internet, but have exploded in recent years thanks to the proliferation of e-mail and instant money transfers. Although the scams can take on many forms—from payments for products sold on eBay or Craigslist, to deposits on houses and purchases of plane tickets for "true love" on the other side of the ocean—they all follow the same general theme.
Scammers send huge checks to unsuspecting victims with some story attached to explain the overpayment, and the victim is expected to wire back the difference immediately. Eventually when the checks are deposited, they bounce and the victim is out a lot of money. Sometimes, victims are tricked into thinking they'll eventually be paid back and continue to participate in this endless cycle of sending money, especially if the scammer is wooing them romantically (which happens more commonly than one might think, to both men and women).
Although this kind of fraud originates from all over the world, it seems to have an unusually high concentration in Africa and, specifically, Nigeria. This has, unsurprisingly, cast Nigeria in a negative light. Olu Agbi said that Nigeria's reputation for being involved with the scams has even hurt the country's ability to land business deals. "[T]hose who want to transact business with us are always very suspicious," he told the newspaper.
Still, Olu Agbi's "blame the victim" mentality won't help Nigeria win any friends, but education on how to spot 419 scams and avoid falling for them can certainly go a long way in curbing their growth. After all, once victims stop blindly forking over cash, scammers will have to figure out some other way to make money.
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