March 21, 2007

Kudos to Dateline

Well my wife and I sat down to watch Dateline's "Catch a Nigerian Scammer" show and there was a shot of an email mailbox full of scammer emails and she asked, "Any of your friends there?"

Didn't recognize anyone (though I forget the name of that Nigerian scammer to whom I sent my Aunt Pixel offer), but kudos to Chris Hanson, who made daily calls over two and a half months to win the confidence of one 419 scammer. The mind reels; most men didn't try that hard to woo their wives.

Still I think the real story was lost. Scammers, like the poor, will always be with us. What fascinates me is the scammees, those folks who send $10K, $15k, up to $120,000 to them. What is the demographic of these folks? Do they lack the cynical gene? Wouldn't the poor grammar, all caps and misspellings give them pause?

Their naievty naturally fascinates me (the "great Other"), but it's also interesting how they represent the outer limits of "word of mouth" - that oral (or emailed) tradition of warning others against scammers. Presumably, you'd get your first Nigerian scammer email and before sending your life savings you might bounce that idea off, well, anyone. A spouse, a child, a friend, your dog. And they would naturally set you straight of course, because the odds against any two people together being duped are astronomical.

So my assumption was that nearly everyone knows about Nigerian scammers by now but obviously there are a lot of people who don't, otherwise it wouldn't be a $1 billion (yes, with a 'b' according to Chris Hanson) industry.

I keep thinking that scammers will reach a point of diminishing returns but year after year it seems the top of the bell curve has yet to be reached. Barnum, phone your office.

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