Donald Trump, Nigerian Prince

I cleaned out my spam box today, which means that business deals from a dozen Nigerian princes, several “virgin hair” dealers, and many companies seeking to help me increase traffic to my blog got deleted.

How do people fall for such foolishness?

Well, why do people still support Trump?


419 schemes (named after the part of the Nigerian criminal code that addresses them, since so many of them come out of Nigeria) ask you to send in a little money in exchange for the promise of much more later. These advance-fee scams are lucrative business. In Nigeria, there is an entire industry of them, one that has turned into a kind of subculture, with its own criminal language and organization. This isn’t a technically sophisticated crime, and most of those involved probably don’t even know how to code. Instead, the crime is committed using old-fashioned fraud techniques, like counterfeiting letterhead, and social engineering–cultivating and then exploiting relationships. Victims lost about $5.3 billion last year in email scams, according to the FBI.

Nigerian pop singer Olu Maintain sings his wildly popular “Yahooze,” which celebrates the success of internet scammers. 

The Nigerian Prince scam continues to be effective, despite having been around for ages now. The target gets an email from someone claiming to be a Nigerian prince (or an astronaut). He asks you to wire transfer funds to him because of some terrible tragedy that has befallen his royal family, with the promise that you’ll get more in return as soon as he’s able to solve the problem he’s facing, if only you help him out. You do, and suddenly your money is gone forever, and the promised repayment is never happening.

Why do people agree to something so obviously stupid?

  1. They want something for nothing. The Nigerian Prince scheme, after all, isn’t just a con: it’s an invitation to pull a con on someone else. Victims put in thousands of dollars with the expectation of getting a million bucks? The interest on their investment is coming from somewhere else, and they know it’s not a legitimate source. Still, they do it because, if given the opportunity, some people will be con artists. The thrill of cheating someone else is part of the attraction.
  2. The fact that this isn’t really how the world works for most of us doesn’t dissuade them because they don’t think the rules of the world should apply to them. They don’t mind a world in which some people get something for nothing (which means that that “something” is coming from people who are losing it in exchange for nothing). They deserve more than others. In fact, scammers may keep the more ridiculous details of the scam (the Nigerian prince who has been kicked out of his corrupt family! treasure discovered by an Iraqi war veteran! a Nigerian astronaut abandoned in space by Russian who needs help getting home!) in order to keep the target’s thinking in the realm of fantasy. If targets think realistically, they know that this isn’t how the world works, so scammers don’t offer a realistic story.
  3. They’re really, really stupid. This type of scam signals it’s a scam in order to weed out anyone who is smart enough to avoid it. Victims self-identify as naive/stupid enough to actually go down to Western Union and send thousands of dollars to a the scammers. The most profitable victims will continue doing so as the scammers up the charges and delay the promised repayment.  Embarrassment at their own stupidity in the first place keeps victims sending more money in and prevents them from asking for help. Sometimes, the continued hope of future riches–or at least recovery what they have lost–pushes them to send in more.

I used to think that this number of people must be very small, that the world would run out of people who were greedy, stupid, and rich enough to fall for this. Then I look at the poll numbers and see that, somehow, Republican voters still approve of Donald Trump. I see no real concerted effort coming from the GOP to stop him. (Why would they? Doing so would mean that the stupid folks Trump has turned out will vote against them. I mean, they could fight Trump, maybe even bringing him down, and lose their jobs as politicians, which would be the right thing to do, but that seems to be beyond folks like Jeff Flake, who are losing their jobs anyway.)

I understand that locking immigrant babies in detention centers won’t shake many of Donald Trump’s fans. Lots of them are racist and all of them at minimum accept racism as the cost of getting their political way (which is… I’m not really sure any more. The only thing Trump really delivers for them is the racism.), and they like to see him be cruel to vulnerable people. (The sadism in this group takes my breath away some days.) But I had thought that perhaps the crash of soybeans or skyrocketing debt would be compelling. Nah. Trump supporters throw good money after bad, perhaps embarrassed by their losses but now, in shame, doubling down rather than backing off.

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Trump devotees at a recent rally in Wilkes Barre, PA. Photo from Washington Post.

The targets for Trump’s scam are out there, signaling through their Q t-shirts and shitposting and continued attendance at Dear Leader’s rallies that they’re as stupid, as gullible, as greedy, and as ready to get to work getting taken advantage of as ever.

I don’t really think they are victims, of course. They freely chose to vote for a man who is exactly who he said he is: someone who takes advantage of others.


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