Experienced email users often treat "Nigerian scam emails" as a brief source of comedy amidst the horrors of trying to achieve inbox zero. But they're far from a minor problem: according to law enforcement officials, Scammers still routinely receive at least $5 million every month from gullible Australians every month.
Australian money picture from Shutterstock
Queensland Police Service superintendent Brian Hay quoted those numbers at the media launch of a survey into the habits of older Australians online. "These insidious evil bastards overseas continue to target our seniors and our communities," he said "There are between 1500 and 2000 people sending between $5 million and $7 million every month to Nigeria and Ghana." The total figure, covering every other country with scams operative, would be much higher.
The McAfee-sponsored survey, which covered 500 active online users, found that one in five Australians over fifty had been the victims of online fraud. While Nigerian scams aren't aimed exclusively at older citizens, their combination of actual wealth (scamming teenagers brings minimal financial results) and social isolation makes them likely victims. "The seniors in our communities are over-represented significantly [in these scams]," Hay said. One recent case had seen a victim transfer more than $1 million. Hay suspects the one in five is low: "Cybercrime is one of the least-reported crimes in the world."
While we often perceive Nigerian scams as involving dubious-sounding offers to transfer large sums of money, the most common model typically involves trying to establish a fake long-distance relationship. "Over 90 per cent of it is romance related," Hay said. "Their trusting nature and their desire for companionship is being abused every single day." (We've offered specific advice from Hay before on how to avoid being caught in love crime honey traps, and that's definitely worth checking out.)
Even when victims are contacted by police and told that they are being defrauded, more than three-quarters continue to hand over money, Hay said. "You might think a phone call from an ugly-headed copper like me would be enough to stop them, but it isn't." Often at that stage, the "relationship" has been running for months, with the scammer sending 10 to 20 messages every single day. "Who are they going to believe — the bloke who wants to smash their dream apart?" Hay said.
In a secure workplace environment where obvious spam such as this is filtered out before users ever see it, it's easy to be complacent. But how would you feel if you discovered your grandfather had given hundreds of thousands of dollars to a scammer? Make use of your superior knowledge; consider volunteering to offer security classes at a local community centre or aged care facility.