It's A Trap
When we first read the story of Janella Spears, a 60-year-old woman from a small town in Oregon, we laughed out loud. And we still laugh to this day.
From our favorite newspaper:
An American woman has revealed how she was swindled out of $400,000 (£269,000) by Nigerian internet fraudsters, in what is believed to be one of the biggest cases of its kind ever recorded.
Janella Spears, a registered nurse from Sweet Home, Oregon, said she started sending money to the scammers in 2005 after she received an email promising her several million dollars from a long-lost relative. In what is commonly known as a 419 scam - named after a section of the Nigerian criminal code - the fraudsters randomly contacted Spears over the internet, claiming they would offer her a substantial cut of $20.5m fortune in return for the cash injection which would help move it out of the country.
Despite advice from bank officials, police and even the FBI that the scheme was a ruse, Spears said she continued to send cash in the hope of a large pay-off. Even fake emails claiming to be from the President of Nigeria and US president George Bush could not dissuade her.
In the end she became obsessed and sent the fraudsters more than $400,000, which she raised by remortgaging her home and spending her husband's retirement savings.
Seems pretty dumb, right?
Well, it is pretty dumb. We understand that the fraudsters knew her grandfather's name, occupation, and some history. But to blow your house, car, and husband's retirement on a Nigerian fraud ring is pretty outrageous, especially considering a few key points of information:
1) Repeated warnings from her bank and the FBI that this was a scam
2) The fraudsters sent her letters which they claimed were written by George W Bush and the director of the FBI
3) The letters contained many suspicious grammatical and spelling mistakes
4) All email addresses used by the fraudsters were from public-domain websites (like yahoo)
We feel sorry for her, but this lady is pretty dumb. She got fooled by one of the oldest internet scams out there, and she missed a hell of a lot of signs which told her that this scam stunk. Almost all of us have received one of these scam emails before, and they all look the same: Strange names, even stranger events, suspicious email addresses, spelling mistakes.
A lot of red flags and warning signs.
So why did this lady go through with it? Quite simply put, Janella Spears allowed herself to be scammed because she so desparately wanted the news to be true. She wanted the money so bad that she would do anything to get it - including wasting away her hard-earned worth.
The wikipedia article, aside from being an interesting read, also provides some scary facts. She is lucky to have not ended up worse:
Victims are almost always requested to travel to Nigeria or a border country to complete a transaction. Individuals are often told that a visa will not be necessary to enter the country. The Nigerian con artists may then bribe airport officials to pass the victims through Immigration and Customs. Because it is a serious offence in Nigeria to enter without a valid visa, the victim's illegal entry may be used by the fraudsters as leverage to coerce the victims into releasing funds. Violence and threats of physical harm may be employed to further pressure victims.
According to the US State Department, 15 foreigners have been murdered as a result of this type of scam in Nigeria over the past 3 years - that's one person evey two months. This scam has become so bad that the State Department has said "Nigerian organized crime rings running fraud schemes through the mail and phone lines are now so large, they represent a serious financial threat to the country.” Moreover, the State Department claims that these financial fraud schemes are implicitly tied to the illegal drug trade, saying that approximately 35% of the world's heroin trade is controlled by Nigerian gangsters, possibly the same ones who bribed Mrs. Spears.
So, while we continue to laugh at the quite unintelligent Mrs. Spears, we are also quite happy that she never actually travelled to Nigeria in pursuit of the money. She could have ended up in big big trouble, and nobody would've wanted that.