«Copyright © 2010 International Journal of Cyber Criminology (IJCC) ISSN: 0974 – 2891 Jan – July 2010, July - December 2010 (Combined Issue) Vol ...»
Michel Dion - Advance Fee Fraud Letters as Machiavellian/Narcissistic Narratives
Copyright © 2010 International Journal of Cyber Criminology (IJCC) ISSN: 0974 – 2891
Jan – July 2010, July - December 2010 (Combined Issue) Vol 4 (1&2): 630–642
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Advance Fee Fraud Letters as Machiavellian/Narcissistic Narratives Michel Dion1 Université de Sherbrooke, Canada Abstract The purpose of this paper is to reveal how advanced fee fraud letters include narratives that unveil a Machiavellian/narcissistic perspective. The paper analyses a sample of one hundred advanced fee fraud letters (or « Nigerian scams »), classified in six (6) categories: lottery scams, humanitarian gifts, abandoned money, business opportunities, deceased estate/last will, gold bars and diamonds. It presents scams as narratives that give us various perceptions about the present era. The paper gives details about some usual technical defects of advanced fee fraud letters. It draws a set of moral principles and values that are explicitly declared by fraudsters. Advanced fee fraud letters are reflecting a Machiavellian/narcissistic approach of human behavior and morality. They are not only attempts to steal victim’s money, they are manifesting that fraudsters are using moral principles and values in order to increase their power over their victims.
Keywords: Advance fee fraud, moral principles, Machiavelli, narcissism.
Introduction Prasad, Kathawala, Bocker and Sprague (1991) said that the number of computer
crimes was on the rise and that there was a spreading variety of sophisticated misdeeds:
viruses; physical damage or destruction (sabotage); financial deception, fraud and theft;
intellectual property fraud and theft, and many other types of misuse, such as blackmail and extortion, theft of computer time, or manipulation of stock prices. Morris-Cotterill (1999, p. 213, 219) suggested that Internet does not create any new evil. Internet would only be a medium that could unveil already unacceptable behaviors in a different way. At least, if we consider the phenomenon of advance free fraud (or "Nigerian letters"), we actually know that at the real beginning, those letters were sent by regular mail or by fax.
So, Internet has only facilitated the commission of such frauds. According to Guichard and Pastré (2005, p. 117-120), Internet is considered by criminal networks as an Eldorado, due to the quasi absence of the rule of law. Hackers are often operating in countries where there is no rule of law. But it is not always the case. Advance fee frauds are committed everywhere in the world, in developing and developed countries as well. Broadhurst (2006, p. 415-417) said that the transnational nature of cyber-crime mirrors globalization processes. Financial crimes have international ramifications. Either they need foreign 1 Full Professor and Chairholder of the CIBC Research Chair on Financial Integrity, Faculté d’administration,
collaborators, or they affect victims throughout the entire world. Advance fee fraud is more and more a transnational phenomenon. It implies a group of fraudsters who live and operate in various countries. For instance, the sender of the letter (Italy), the intermediary for further communication (Hong Kong), and the recipient (who actually receives the money: Netherlands) could live in three different countries.
Adomi and Igun (2008) well described the reasons why criminals are using cyberspace to perpetrate their acts in Nigeria. Indeed, most of those motives are still true in other
(1) the easy access to the internet; (2) the anonymity offered by internet; (3) the ability of cyber criminals to get e-mail addresses of individuals from various sources; (4) the belief that breaking the law online is less serious than breaking the law in the physical space; (5) the harsh economic conditions of the people could propel them to commit cyber crimes; (6) the inadequate law enforcement, or the lack of cyber laws (p. 718-719).
Those explanations of cyber-crime are not moral justifications of the phenomenon. An explanation is nothing but a basic link between a given behavior and its conditioning factors. It can never be used to morally justify any kind of conduct.
But organizations have their own responsibility in the way cyber-crimes are occurring in the organizational setting. As said Overhill (2003, p. 166), the degree to which an organization chooses to react to a presumed cyber-intrusion must be determined by the organization’s policies and priorities on business continuity balanced against organizational policies and priorities on information security.
According to Broadhurst (2006, p. 412-414), we cannot exert an effective control of cyber-crime without a large cooperation between public and private security agencies and even between international law enforcement agencies (Tan, 2002, p. 351). What is crucial is the role of communications and IT industries in designing products that could resist to criminal attacks and that could facilitate detection processes. Computer forensics is then a growing field of research and investigation. According to Bassett, Bass and O’Brien (2006, p. 30), specialists are required because of the growing phenomenon of cyber-crime.
However, Tan (2002, p. 352) believed that what is more important is consumer education. We should certainly affirm that both kinds of intervention are socially necessary to combat cyber-crime. If people would be more informed about advance fee frauds, they would not become victims of scammers. And if they would no longer be victims available on the net, the crime itself would disappear.
According to Malgwi (2004, p. 147), advance fee fraud is by far the most prevalent crime in Nigeria. This kind of fraud is covered by section 419 of the Nigerian Penal Law (419 scams). Ahmed and Oppenheim (2006, p. 160, 171) studied spam mail and concluded that it is often impossible to identify the country where spam originated. They included in the same category (financial spam) mortgage and credit card offers as well as lottery scams and Nigerian letters. Mortgage and credit cards offers could be quite reliable, while lottery scams and Nigerian letters are fraudulent messages. The authors observed that financial spam was the category in which spam was sent most regularly. However, we are not able to know the proportion of lottery scams and Nigerian letters within the financial scam category. Glickman (2009, p. 463) suggested that advanced fee fraud letters reflected a basic cultural and social disfunctionality and a political and cultural success syndrome implying corruption and political patronage.
In this paper, I will deal with advanced fee fraud letters as narratives. I would like to unveil the Machiavellian/narcissistic perspective scammers seem to adopt.
Content Analysis Adogame (2009, p. 561) said that many advanced fee fraud letters (those written in English) are characterized by grammatical errors, so that it seem that such messages were probably hurriedly drafted (probably in internet cafés). Zook (2007, p. 68) said that the geographic 419 spam operations are continuously changing and that the geographical strategy generally implies that victims are located in a given country, spammers in another, and finally the money is collected in a third country. 419 scammers come from all over the world. Ultrascan (2008, p. 14) presented the top 10 active resident scammers (in 2007): United States (6200: 1st); Canada (3310: 3rd); United Kingdom (2520: 5th). The top 10 active resident scammers list includes North-American countries (Canada, USA), European countries (Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, and United Kingdom), African countries (Ghana, South Africa) and only one Asian country (China). The victims of advanced fee fraud letters are businesses and individuals as well. The top 10 losses suffered (in 2007) by companies and persons (in millions US) included United States (830; 1st), nd United Kingdom (580; 2 ), France (235; 6th), and Canada (158; 10th). The top 10 losses list was constituted by North-American countries (Canada, USA), European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom) and Asian countries (Australia, China, Japan).
There are seven general characteristics of advance fee fraud scams: (1) the authoritative position: according to Chang (2008, p. 76), many fraudsters take the identity of an expert, or an advisorial or authoritative position. In that way, they wish that victims will focus their attention on the proposal itself rather than question its validity; (2) the mix of truths and lies: sometimes, fraudsters present true facts (related to existing organizations or to historical facts), but they mix them with fraudulent assertions; (3) the motive for writing to the victim: Chang (2008, p. 77) believed that the more successful fraudulent messages are those in which they present a compelling reason; (4) the need for victims to react very quickly: we could often observe that those "proposals" are presented as "a rare or one-off opportunity that highlights its scarcity", observed Chang (2008, p. 78); (5) the "confidential" nature of the message: sometimes, messages are said to be "very secret and confidential". It is particularly the case when the fraudster takes the identity of a high government official, assumed Viosca, Bergiel and Balsmeier (2004, p. 12); (6) the promise of large sums of money for the victim: Salu (2004, p. 161) said that fraudsters usually promise to give "between 30% and 50% of the money to be transferred"; (7) the international ramification of fraudsters: according to Akinladejo (2007, p. 323), advance fee frauds have international ramifications, with victims and fraudsters from all over the world. Fraudsters operate in complicated cell structures and have a lot of important connections in the world’s financial system. Advance fee fraud has been globalized. It actually uses the means of globalization in order to extend its influence.
Scams are Narratives The advanced fee fraud letters I have analyzed have been sent between January 2005 and January 2010, either to me, or to persons who have put such letters on websites
dealing with Nigerian letters2. I would classify them in six categories: (a) Business opportunity (N= 29): without details (9); about business funds (9); about Government funds (11); (b) abandoned money (N=26); (c) deceased estate/last will (N=21); (d) humanitarian gifts (N=9); (e) lottery (N=13); (f) gold bars and diamonds (N=2). I will further analyze the contents and structure of advance fee fraud letters as narratives.
Contents of the Narratives As to lottery scams, the average amount is 1,083,000$, while the median is 850,000 $.
Most of the narratives (7/13) gave the Batch/ticket numbers of the winner. In many cases (5/13), selection processes were realized through e-mail addresses. There are two wellknown companies that were mentioned in given narratives: Microsoft (twice) and Yahoo (once). One of the characters of the story has a well-known family name: Van Gogh!
As to humanitarian gifts, the average amount was 8 million $ (median: 7.2 million $);
the proportion that would be given to the victim is 15% (average and median). Narratives referred to different countries, such as Russia, Iran, Israel, Kuwait, and Nigeria. But for the humanitarian gifts themselves, they would have to be given to Bulgaria, Cameroun, Liberia, Mozambique, Algeria and Malaysia. Only one well-known company was
mentioned: Chevron-Texaco. Only one former politician was included in a given story:
Corazon Aquino, former President of the Philippines. The owner of the Bank Hapoalim (Israel), Mrs Shari Arison, was also included in a scam dealing with humanitarian gifts.
As to abandoned money, the average amount is 18 million $, while the median is 15 million $. The proportion that would be given to the victim is between 25% (median) and 39% (average). Nigeria is very often included in such narratives (9/25). Among the other countries mentioned, there are Scotland, Egypt, Benin, Burkina Faso, Jamaica, South Korea, Ivory Coast, Indonesia and Togo. Two well-known politicians were included in some narratives: Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein. Moreover, there are two major companies scammers were referring to: Citibank and Chevron/Texaco.
Other scams are focusing on business opportunities. The average amount is 24.3 million $, while the median is 21 million $. The proportion of the money that could be given to the victim is between 25% (median) and 28% (average). A lot of African countries are mentioned in those narratives, including Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Liberia. The name of four well-known people is included in given narratives: Robert Mugabe (former President of Zimbabwe), Mwai Kikaki (President of Kenya), Charles Taylor (former President of Liberia), Mikhail Khodorkovsky (former CEO of Ioukos, a large Russian oil company) and Farida Waziri (Head, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission of Nigeria). One well-known company is included in such scams: Nescafé.
Finally, as to deceased estate/last will, the average amount is 34.4 million $, while the median is 22.5 million $. The proportion that would be allocated to the victim is between 19% (average) and 20% (median).
Two countries were mentioned more than three times:
Ivory Coast and Nigeria. Two others were mentioned twice: Sierre Leone and Irak. The name of two well-known politicians was included in some narratives: Jose Eduardo dos Santos (President of Angola) and Charles Taylor (former President of Liberia). A scam focusing on deceased estate was referring to « Chief Vincent Williams, Chairman and CEO of the Sierra Leone national Gold and Mining Corporation ». In advanced fee fraud SvbizLaw.com (Silicon Valley Business Law, Law Offices of Thomas Gross); Nigerianletters.com (Scam 2