The Perfect Mark

phishing alert

 

A Massachusetts psychotherapist was duped by a Nigerian e-mail scam, and how this became a huge thriving business from 1980s to 200s.

Read the full article, published in May 2006, in The New Yorker.

 

Excerpt:

 

Every swindle is driven by a desire for easy money; it’s the one thing the swindler and the swindled have in common. Advance-fee fraud is an especially durable con. In an early variation, the Spanish Prisoner Letter, which dates to the sixteenth century, scammers wrote to English gentry and pleaded for help in freeing a fictitious wealthy countryman who was imprisoned in Spain. Today, the con usually relies on e-mail and is often called a 419 scheme, after the anti-fraud section of the criminal code in Nigeria, where it flourishes. (Last year, a Nigerian comic released a song that taunted Westerners with the lyrics “I go chop your dollar. I go take your money and disappear. Four-one-nine is just a game. You are the loser and I am the winner.”) The scammers, who often operate in crime rings, are known as “yahoo-yahoo boys,” because they frequently use free Yahoo accounts. Many of them live in a suburb of Lagos called Festac Town. Last year, one scammer in Festac Town told the Associated Press, “Now I have three cars, I have two houses, and I’m not looking for a job anymore.”

According to a statement posted on the Internet by the U.S. State Department, 419 schemes began to proliferate in the mid-nineteen-eighties, when a collapse in oil prices caused severe economic upheaval in Nigeria. The population—literate, English-speaking, and living with widespread government corruption—faced poverty and rising unemployment. These conditions created a culture of scammers, some of them violent. Marks are often encouraged to travel to Nigeria or to other countries, where they fall victim to kidnapping, extortion, and, in rare cases, murder. In the nineteen-nineties, at least fifteen foreign businessmen, including one American, were killed after being lured to Nigeria by 419 scammers. Until recently, Nigerian officials tended to blame the marks. “There would be no 419 scam if there are no greedy, credulous and criminally-minded victims ready to reap where they did not sow,” the Nigerian Embassy in Washington said in a 2003 statement. The following year, Nuhu Ribadu, the chairman of Nigeria’s Economic & Financial Crimes Commission, noted that not one scammer was behind bars. Last November, however, Ribadu’s commission convicted two crime bosses who had enticed a Brazilian banker to spend two hundred and forty-two million dollars of his employer’s money on a fictitious airport-development deal. (Prosecutions by U.S. authorities are rare; most victims don’t know the real names of their “partners,” and 419 swindlers are adept at covering their tracks.)

 

The Exacting, Expansive Mind of Christopher Nolan

nolan

As Christopher Nolan’s latest masterpiece, ‘Interstellar’, will soon be released this week, let us have a brief look at the biography of this filmmaker in The New York Times.

Excerpt:

Nolan’s movies require this thick quotient of reality to support his looping plots, which accelerate in shifting time signatures, consume themselves in recursive intrigue and advance formidable and enchanting problems of interpretation. “Memento,” the Sundance favorite that brought him instant acclaim at age 30, is a noir thriller with the chronology of reverse-spliced helix. “Insomnia,” the only one of his nine films for which he did not receive at least a share of the writing credit, was somewhat more straightforward — a moody, tortured psychological thriller — but its real trick was to gain him access to studio work and studio budgets. “The Prestige,” a Victorian dueling-magician drama, is a clever bit of prestidigitation, as well as a canny commentary on film and technology (Nolan on digital filmmaking can sound a lot like Ricky Jay on David Copperfield). “Inception” was a heist movie that took place in a series of nested dreamscapes. Nolan’s Batman movies, though basically linear in structure, resonated broadly as shadowy political allegories.

Part of the reason his work has done so well at the box office is that his audience members — and not just his fans, but his critics — find themselves watching his movies twice, or three times, bleary-eyed and shivering in their dusky light, hallucinating wheels within wheels and stopping only to blog about the finer points. These blogs pose questions along the lines of “If the fact that the white van is in free-fall off the bridge in the first dream means that, in the second dream, there’s zero gravity in the hotel, then why is there still normal gravity in the third dream’s Alpine fortress?????