Nigerian e-mail scams.

How an idea spread and grew on the Internet.
Oct. 22 2002 10:13 AM

The Nigerian Nightmare

Who's sending you all those scam e-mails?

(Continued from Page 1)

Heartless as it may sound, there's a silver lining to the digitization of 419. The proliferation of cybercafes in Nigeria can be linked directly to the demand supplied by 419ers, who form the establishments' core clientele. Walk into an Internet cafe in Lagos, and chances are that a good percentage of the terminals are occupied by men masquerading as Laurent Kabila's long-lost son or as a rogue official at the Central Bank of Nigeria. The wiring of Nigeria is being propelled by 419—much as America's appetite for porn helped shepherd the commercial Internet through its infancy. AOL made it through its lean, early years only because of adult chat rooms and spicy picture downloads (which kept the meter running during the era of per-hour access fees).

Someday 419 will abate, when young, educated Nigerians have better economic prospects and foreign Internet users get it through their thick skulls that, no, you're not going to rake in millions by flying to Nigeria and fronting some stranger your life savings. And when that day comes, there will be a thriving Internet culture for Nigerians to use for more legitimate purposes. If the Daniel A. Oluwas of the world have the technical chops to work a 419 scam, they can surely get an e-commerce site going.

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired and a columnist for Gizmodo. His first book, Now the Hell Will Start, is out now.

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