You know the one I'm talking about? If you use the Internet, you've probably gotten it along with all the other spam.
Typically, the story is that a rich Nigerian potentate left a big sum of cash, and his aides are looking for an American who is willing to transfer the cash into his U.S. bank account - for a cut, of course.
If you reply, then they start asking for identification information and bank account numbers, that sort of thing.
Pretty soon, they start asking for money. They need a processing fee. They need a little extra to help bribe the right officials to get the money out of the country.
It's a ridiculous, laughable scam. It's hard to imagine anybody could possibly be taken in. Yet it happens all the time. Greed gets in the way of common sense.
Actually, there's nothing new about the scam; it's been around since at least the 1920s. It used to be that people got official-looking letters from overseas. Now it's done by e-mail. I have at least three different versions in my in-box right now.
(The country of origin doesn't have to be Nigeria, of course, although that's one of the more popular sources. In general, anybody who is offering you a share of big money from another country is a fake, period.)
It is fitting that because the Internet has been used to spread the scam, it also has become one of the most effective ways of fighting it. Just type in the words "Nigerian scam" in a Google search and you're directed to lots of useful, informative sites.
It's even become quite the sport, among some scam-busters, to answer the scammers and lead them along for a while. They proudly post their correspondence.
My favorite was the guy who told the Nigerians that he had killed his wife and needed the money fast to get out of the country. Another guy convinced them that he was a nudist who wanted to meet them in a nude beach, making them sign and fax him a pledge promising not to make fun of his appearance, and they complied.
All this is a little less funny, however, when you consider that some victims actually take the offer of the scammers to fly to some foreign country to meet them. A few have been kidnapped, robbed or even killed.
I kind of like my scammers. For one thing, they claim to be operating out of "UK" (not "the" U.K.). The writer, a "Mrs. Karen Norman," informed me she was looking for somebody to help handle $8-million. That sum is modest by Nigerian-scam standards; some fortunes involve $60-million or more. So I liked Karen even more, for her frugality.
"By all means, tell me more," I answered.
Karen replied, in all capital letters, that we had to get things "STRATE" right from the start. Either I needed to fly to the U.K. or name an attorney who could represent me. Naturally, they already had a fellow in mind.
"ALL YOU JUST NEED TO DO IS TO BE HONEST AND PROVIDE A VERY GOOD ACCOUNT WHERE THIS FUNDS WILL BE TRANSFERD TO AND YOUR FULL NAME AND ADDRESS," Karen wrote to me. "IF POSSIBLE YOU OPEN A NEW ACCOUNT FOR THIS TRANSACTION IT WILL BE MUCH BETTER.WAITING FOR YOUR IMMEDIATE REPLY."
When I didn't answer right away, I got a followup message complaining that I had not been "prompt."
"Sorry for the delay," I replied. "Do I really have to come to the U.K.? Isn't there some way to do this via e-mail?"
Karen, whose typing is getting worse, sent me the name of a barrister who has only a Yahoo e-mail address. "JUST TELL HIM THAT YOU HAVE SOME FUNDS IN A BANK IN U.K AND YOU WILL LIKE TO TRANSFER IT TO YOU PERSONAL ACCOUNT IN YOU COUNTRY THAT HE SHOULD TELL YOU WHAT IT WILL TAKE FOR THE FUNDS TO BE TRANSFERD," she advised.
I've traded e-mails with the lawyer, who wants 5,000 pounds from me to handle the deal. Since then, I've also gotten messages from "Mr. Clemtus Peters," "Mr. Creek Banjul" and some guy just known as "Frederick," all three offering new versions of the scam. Being loyal to Mrs. Karen Norman, however, I think I'll give them a pass.