The 3 Ingredients That Make Nigerian Prince Scams Work

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We know we should ignore spam emails that contain offers too good to be true. They usually go straight to our spam folders. However, widespread awareness of these scams has not made them go away. Scammers became more creative instead.

How It Works

Scams involving Nigerian princes have been around since the earliest days of the internet. In fact, they have become quite cliché. Also known as 419 scams, they are a variation of a type of scam that has been around for centuries.

Known as the Spanish prisoner swindle, it first emerged in the aftermath of the French Revolution. The scam involved sending handwritten letters soliciting help for a falsely imprisoned but non-existent noble.

The scam soon evolved into the more familiar Nigerian Prince variant, among others. Even though the scams seem to be a modern problem, it’s mostly associated with the early days of the internet.

In fact, the scam first went global as early as the 1980s. Scammers began to use conventional snail mail to send letters around the world that resemble the emails that we see today.

Despite being a joke to most of us, these scams are still incredibly effective. Despite widespread awareness, scammers are still able to con people as they have refined their methods over time.

There are three key ingredients that make the scam work: these ingredients are what lie at the heart of its success in the modern world.


With so many people being aware of this particular scam, the perpetrators have become more selective in who they target. They used to rely on the simple law of averages.

If only up to 1% of people respond to the scam, let alone fall for it, then scammers still earn themselves a decent payday as long as their target audience is large enough.

But that’s not how things are done today. There are a variety of ways to be secure online. One of them, using proxy services which you can read more about on Smartproxy blog.

It’s getting harder for scammers to get their emails in front of a large number of people. Automatic spam filtering and a more vigilant oversight of email services mean that many of their messages are intercepted and diverted into the spam void before they are even opened.

Instead, scammers now focus on specific targets that have been chosen for a reason. This reconnaissance work gives scammers the opportunity to assess the most effective route for the individual target that they are pursuing.

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Social Engineering

Nowadays, most of the attacks that are reported as hacking are the result of sophisticated social engineering. Modern cybersecurity systems are incredibly resilient. They are all but impossible to breach unless hackers have significant resources available to them. It is much easier to hack people than it is to hack a computer.

Having gathered intelligence on their targets, scammers can then decide on the social engineering approach that is most likely to work.

They might pretend to be an employee of a legitimate business that the target uses and might be expecting an invoice from. Scammers can then simply send their own invoice that looks like the real one the target is expecting. For Nigerian Prince scams, they might pretend to be a wealthy distant relative.

In other cases, hoaxers will attach an infected file to an email that installs malware on the target computer as soon as it is opened. This malware can include keylogging software, which ultimately gives scammers access to the target’s bank accounts.

Psychological Manipulation

Some of the more sophisticated versions of 419 scams involve a deep level of psychological manipulation. This requires these scammers to build a rapport with their targets over a prolonged period of time.

Once the target has established a relationship with the scammer and believes they are someone worthy of trust, it is much easier to swindle them.

Some 419 scammers even make appearances on online dating services and wait for potential victims to come to them. People who use online dating services are often more susceptible to these types of attacks because they are there in order to establish a meaningful connection with potential dating partners.

Numerous studies show that once we have committed ourselves to a course of action in public, we are reluctant to change our minds, sometimes in spite of overwhelming evidence.

If they manage to convince their target to invest emotionally and/or financially in the scam, it is often easier to extract even more money from them.

Now that technological literacy is more widespread, the old methods of 419 scammers will no longer be effective. However, by utilizing their modern understanding of human psychology and scamming tactics, these same scammers have found success with age-old techniques.

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Paschal Okafor is NaijaTechGuide Team Lead. The article The 3 Ingredients That Make Nigerian Prince Scams Work was written by NaijaTechGuide Team. The article was last modified: February 26th, 2022
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