We’re in the school holidays down here in most of Australia, so perhaps some off-topic reading would be a nice diversion for a week or two. I’ll keep the usual Education Technology stuff flowing as it comes, but I’ve also got some stuff to share that diverts from my normal ‘education technology blog’ focus. …

You’ll see them in your email inbox – an offer of fantastic wealth, with a neat side promise of just a couple of million dollars if you help the Nigerian prince/general/director/public servant to transfer a bit of cash. And most people will spot it the scam immediately, and hit Delete before they’ve blinked.

So why do they continue to send this stream of obvious emails, with their grammatical and spelling errors and random capitals? If you’re looking for an interesting discussion topic with students, the answer is intriguing:

Because more intelligent people spot the scam immediately…

imageApparently, the answer is because they don’t want more intelligent people to fall for it, because then they’d have much more work to do to separate out the truly gullible from the mass. And it’s only the truly gullible they want to respond, because they are their best prospects! And a recent research project by Cormac Herley, from Microsoft Research, found that the email with errors and typos is the simplest, most cost effective way of weeding out the wheat from the chaffe:

 

  Far-fetched tales of West African riches strike most as comical. Our analysis suggests that is an advantage to the attacker, not a disadvantage. Since his attack has a low density of victims, the Nigerian scammer has an over-riding need to reduce the false positives. By sending an email that repels all but the most gullible, the scammer gets the most promising marks to self-select, and tilts the true to false positive ration in his favour.  

Want to know more? Dive into Cormac Herley's full research paper "Why do Nigerian scammers say they are from Nigeria?"

Bonus facts: According to FraudGallery.com 51% of scam emails come from Nigeria, with Cote d’Ivoire coming in second at 34%