Woman-stuck-in-Africa scam?
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Page updated 20-Aug-2006


I've seen a lot of Nigeria 419 scam emails as former editor of Linux Gazette, but today was the first one I got in an IM conversation. "Kelly" contacted me on Worldskins saying in broken English that he lives in Federal Way (an unfortunately-named suburb of Seattle), had gotten out of a bad relationship, and was looking for "true" (true love?), and wanted to talk to me on IM. I didn't think I could help him much since I'm not looking for a needy "quick relationship" type but I figured I should at least hear what he has to say.

So we IM'd and Kelly said he was divorced two years ago because his husband mistreated him; said husband now has custody of the kids. I said, "What, are you a woman?" She said, "Yes, I told you." No, you didn't. As if I could tell from androgynous name like Kelly. And what was she doing on a gay profile site, and did she even read my profile? I told her there was no chance for a relationship. She said, "Yes, that's why I can trust you." What? "I need help moving from where I am. Can I tell you my situation?"

Her language suddenly changed from broken English to words like "absconded" and "an undisclosed sum", as if she were pasting in text. She had answered an online ad for an African man that promised he could make her happy, and convinced her to bring lots of money and valuables to invest in a profitable oil busines (she had gotten the money from a previous business). I said, "Your loneliness kept you from thinking clearly." She said yes, and he only wanted to steal from her, so she ran away, locked the money and valuables in a safe deposit box that only she knows the code to, and is in hiding at a hotel.

Now, the 419 scams work by somebody pretending to have millions of dollars they inherited and need to get out of the country (usually Nigeria) before the corrupt leadership steals it. So they deposit it in your bank account and you wire a portion to a third address, keeping the rest. But the deposit turns out to be a fake account so the bank demands the money you wired. Or the scammers don't deliver the check, saying more and more customs fees and other fees need to be paid to corrupt officials in order to complete the deal.

So I said, "You want me to receive these valuables." She said yes, and send her back a plane ticket. I asked, "Why don't you just withdraw some of the money and buy a plane ticket yourself?" She said he's after her and will kill her. She said the goods are already committed to be sent abroad and she didn't declare the money in them. "If I tell them about the money the officials will kill me." I said, "Go to the US Embassy and tell them a man is after you, and ask for temporary asylum. They'll keep you safe there until you can do something else." She wouldn't have that either.

I said, "Stop wasting your time with me. Find someone else. I'm not doing something that may be illegal for somebody I don't know." Then she asked, "Well, can you send me money for a plane ticke then and I'll pay you back as soon as I can?" I said no and she said bye.

It has the smell of scam all over it, but I can't help feeling a little bad for a woman stuck in Africa who's about to be killed. Part of me wanted to send her $1500 (the presumed cost of a ticket) even though that's a large chunk of my savings, hoping I'd get it back in a month or two. It got me thinking, if I feel like this after having seen dozens of 419 scams, how must somebody feel who doesn't know what's going on? Is that why so many people fall for it? Would I have fallen for it if I hadn't known?

And what if there is a desperate woman in Africa? But I have to think, surely she must have local resources, or somebody to contact besides a stranger on the Internet. Usually these scams go to heads of companies, the scammer claiming he knows you're of such good reputation. If that's so, why don't he know anything about you, not even your name? Why do they send these to Linux Gazette, which is not a company but a volunteer organization? I love the ones about our PayPal account -- as if we had one!

[Listening to Schiller "Voyage" (ambient electronic)].


kelly: hery
kelly: how are u
me: Still alive. [I meant to say "You're still alive" but it probably sounded like "I'm still alive."]
me: I don't want to hear another spiel.
kelly: hey am gay
kelly: i just use my sister computer
kelly: she told me about u
kelly: that is why am here
me: Just don't ask for money or for me to receive an international package.
kelly: why
kelly: wat make u talk to me like this
me: Where is your sister?
kelly: she is the house
kelly: where are u ??
me: She said she was in a west African country hiding in a hotel because a man used her and wants to kill her.
me: She asked me to receive her valuables or send her $$ for a plane ticket.
me: That smells an a awful lot like the Nigeria 419 scam.
That scared him/her away quick.

[drawing] [drawing]

Sluggo is Mike Orr, a helluva friendly guy in Seattle. Email me if you have feedback.