Microsoft's Research Scientists Finally Solved Why Scammers Say They're From Nigeria


Photo: Flickr / AMRosario

Scam emails usually have two things in common: they’re comically bad, and they’re from a Nigerian prince.You might think that’s a silly strategy, but it turns out it’s not.

Microsoft released a new white paper from its research division this month that explains why scammers use such a “terrible” approach.

It turns out it’s a method for sifting out “false positives,” — basically finding only the most gullible people so the scammer doesn’t waste any time exchanging with a mark that isn’t going to result in a payout.

You can read the full paper on its research site — which uses complex mathematical modelling techniques to sift out the false positive rate. But here’s the most important part from the abstract:

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 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 ratio in his favour.

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