At this point, disenfranchised "Nigerian royalty" asking for money through a poorly worded email is the ultimate cliche of internet scams.
According to new book "Think Like A Freak," a follow-up to the popular "Freakonomics" by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, the scam's obviousness is its chief selling point.
The book refers to research from Microsoft Research computer scientist Cormac Herley, who looked at Nigerian scams — technically called advance-fee fraud — from the point of view of the scammer.
Levitt and Dubner explain the genius behind such an obvious scam in terms of "false positives," referring to email recipients who engage with the scammers but don't ultimately pay.
Therefore, it's in the scammers' best interest to minimize the number of false positives who cost them effort but never send them cash.
By sending an initial email that's obvious in its shortcomings, the scammers are isolating the most gullible targets.
As Herley tells the book's authors, "Anybody who doesn't fall off their chair laughing is exactly who they want to talk to.". »