I don’t want to spoil anything. No jinxies, or whatever, but… there’s a little bit of royalty. Might have a bit of money, eh for
a nominal fee be able to get a cut of a pretty big pie. Really?!>>Yeah.
You going through with that? Uh, Guy Fieri says so.
Guy Fieri? … yeah.
The, chef? I was trying to make a joke about eating an
actual pie, it doesn’t matter. ♫ ‘Cause I’m a Modern Rogue! ♫ [synthetic robot voice]
4-1-9 scams Nigerian email scams. 4-1-9, right?
Yes, you know why they call it the 4-1-9? That’s the uh, penal code thing, right? Like
the cop code? Like they kick in the doors, and they’ve got mustaches and pistols. They’re
like, “Looks like we’ve got another 4-1-9 over here.”
More or less, I like your version, it’s way more exciting.
It’s the Nigerian penal code for fraud. And these 4-1-9 scams, they call them that because
they originated in Nigeria, but a lot of them aren’t even in Nigeria anymore.
That’s the whole thing! Right? Everyone thinks that like, “Oh, I’ve got a Nigerian spammer
or whatever.” Like, sometimes I think there’s actually a Prince who’s just screwed, because
he’s in prison in Nigeria. And he’s like, “No, guys! I’m serious!” Why are they always speaking in broken English? There’s actually a very good reason for this.
This is a heuristic that maximizes their input. Keep in mind, 4-1-9 scam of course is, you
have a prince who claims that he’s imprisoned and he’s got 300 million dollars and he’s
got to move to the US. He doesn’t know you from Adam, but he just gots to get moving
over and he’s just happy to give you, oh I don’t know, a million or two million dollars, right? Not a sophisticated scam to begin with, which
means you don’t want smart people responding to you, because smart people will waste your
time, they’ll mess around with you, they’ll report you to the police. So the way you eliminate
those people, is by writing it in language just dumb enough that the only people to respond
are people who might actually believe that they’re about to become millionaires.
And a lot of people, when they read that broken English, they think, “There’s no way that
this can be a scam or that they can take advantage of me, because I’m clearly smarter than they are.” Which is the hallmark of all the best cons,
you let the mark feel like they’re the one driving things.
Yes, most of these originated in Nigeria in like the ’80s and they were written letters.
Of course, with the advent of the Internet, they became much more popular.
Holy cow! I remember the first time I got an email, and there’s that brief glimmer of
like, “Oh my god, is this my ticket?!” But I can’t imagine how much more valid it feels
when you get a telegram or something, or some kind of official correspondence that feels
like a Telex dispatch from the other side of the world.
Yeah. And of course, what is the one thing that all cons have in common?
That one moment where they say, “And that’s why I need the money, right now.”
>>Yes! You create the sense of ownership of something
bigger. You promise a big, big prize, and you act like they already have it. Congratulations,
you’ve won a trip to the Bahamas! Congratulations, you’ve inherited a billion dollars or whatever!
And only after you let people sit with that idea for a little bit, do you suddenly take
it back, “And all we have to do, little paperwork you billionaire you. Just, uh if you can just
wire over enough money to cover the transfer fee of all the billions of dollars, that’d
make things real easy.” Yeah, and usually it’s a long email with lots
of documentation, it sounds very official, and formal, and urgent.
>>Right. And they’re only asking for a hundred dollars
to get this paperwork moving, and you get two million dollars.
I think it was W. C. Fields that said, “You can’t scam an honest man.” And what this all
relies on is two feelings: number one, the feeling that you’re about to get a payday;
and number two, the feeling that you’re a part of something less than legal. I fell
for a proto version of this 20 years ago. Really?
So I’m at a Home Depot, there’s some guys in a van driving around. And then they’re
like, “Hey man, crazy thing happened. We went to this boobie club down the way and we installed
all these thousand dollar studio monitors. Well here’s a picture in a catalog of the
studio monitors, and you can see where it says they’re 1200 dollars each, anyway, turns
out we had two extra. You want to buy them for only 300 dollars?”
Keep in mind this was pre-Internet or whatever. I’m looking and I’m like, “Well, those are
the same monitors, that does say the word 1500 dollars or whatever.” I’m thinking, o-ho-ho,
you guys can’t fool me, these are stolen speakers. Also, let’s go to the ATM so I can buy these
stolen speakers from you. And of course what they are is just garbage speakers that they
go around telling a story that ropes you in, and I assume that’s pretty much why the 4-1-9
works? Yeah, there are hundreds of different variations.
Some of them, you’ve won the lottery, some of them they’ve bought a bunch of oil at below
market prices, some of them are inheritance and so you just need to pay a small fee to
get your inheritance and to unlock it. So it sounds like no matter what version of
the story that it is, there are three key elements. One, there’s a lot of money to be
made by you. Two, it’s slightly shady, which is why you should not tell anyone about our
conversation. And three, in order to complete the transaction, the tiniest little bit of
monetary transaction has to happen. Exactly. And that’s the most important part,
in there, this is just another iteration of what’s called an advanced-fee scam. So they
get this fee from you, and then they say, “Okay, we’re going to go ahead and move forward.”
And then there’s another slightly larger complication where they say, “We need this paperwork, and
it’s going to cost like a thousand dollars.” So what you’re saying is, they keep paying
dividends in terms of conversation, as far as moving things forward, but financially
they’re bleeding you dry. Yeah, you have these escalating investments
that you need to make, and that’s part of the problem, that they hook you for a little
bit and you think, “Well I’ve already invested this much, I need to keep going and see it
through.” So this is the hidden fourth phase of the
4-1-9 scam, the sunk cost fallacy. This idea that it’s like, “Well, I mean I’ve sent over
$5,000 so far, what do I walk away? Then I’d really be an idiot. The smart thing
is to just handle this next $200 payment and finally I’ll be a billionaire.”
And then to further entice you, they up the stakes on both ends. They’ll say, “Now, we need
$8,000 from you, but guess what? We’ve unlocked more funds, it’s actually 26 million
dollars that we can get to you.” I’m sorry, just real quick, what was the guys
name?>>You in? You in?! Let’s do it!
>>I was, I was. But then comes the con within a con, there’s
a threat to the entire operation. So, you’ve got the promise of money, you know
it’s shady, you invest, you get a little bit started, they keep stringing you along, you
don’t want to be a sucker so the way to not be a sucker is to continue to give them money,
and then the moment you want to stop giving them money–
Then they say the entire operation is in jeopardy, we need this much money for plane tickets
to go meet these associates to convince them. Or better yet, some “totally other person”
calls you, Detective So-And-So investigating a Nigerian 4-1-9 scam.
And they say, “Listen, we need this much money to bribe this guy so he gets off of our trail.”
That’s amazing. Now a lot of times they ask for your banking
information, that doesn’t really give them anything. They don’t use it! But, it lets
them know that they have a valid mark. Wow I never put that together! Because I always
wondered that, the bank routing information is on literally every check you’ve ever written,
because it’s 1987. But I was like, what can they do with that? That let’s them know that you’re willing to play ball. Oh that’s brilliant. Uh, okay, tell me some ghost stories. Terrify me.
Okay, I’ve got some little factoids. How many emails does a scammer have to send out to
get one response? In the early days, pre-Internet, to market
my stage show I would send out 2-4,000 post cards saying, “Hey, Brian Brushwood is in
Atlanta, Georgia. Would you like to book him at your show?” And I’d get four or five calls,
so usually in what they call direct response marketing, you would expect hopefully a one
percent return. I’m going to guess it’s worse and say one tenth of one percent, for every
thousand, two thousand you get a response? They get one response for every 12.5 million
emails they send out. I need to talk to their marketing team, because
that’s not great. There’s a lot I could do to up their return on investment.
But it’s emails, it doesn’t cost them anything. They send out billions per year, and these
larger organizations make around two million dollars a year.
After the fact, I have to imagine that virtually nobody wants to admit that they were suckered,
that they were scammed, and that they got taken for a ride.
Exactly. The numbers are actually much, much higher than the government knows, because
people are too ashamed to admit that they were taken advantage of.
So, famous magician Penn Jillette had a laptop stolen, and there were some sexy photos on
there. They tried to blackmail him, and he went to the, he was like, “Well what’s the
worst that could happen? There’s sexy photos of me out on the Internet–I’ll go to the
FBI.” He called the FBI and said they’re trying to blackmail me for the stuff on the laptop,
and he’s like, “Well how much money have you given them?” and he’s like, “None, I called
you.” And he says, “That, that doesn’t happen.” Like the FBI goes, “Uh, literally nobody calls
us before they’ve already given up too much money or whatever.” The moment you start,
is the moment you’re totally screwed. It ties back to that, I don’t want people
to know that I’m a sucker, and maybe I’m not so I’m going to keep investing money to prove
that I’m not a sucker. That’s the insidious, brilliant part of this.
Is you participate because you don’t want to be the sucker who had the chance to become
a millionaire but didn’t bother to send a hundred dollars in. You don’t want to be the
sucker who has spent $5,000 and gotten nothing in response, so you send a little bit more.
And you most certainly don’t want to be the sucker who goes to jail, because you’re being
told that you’re involved in an investment scheme that’s going to end you up in the Congo.
And you don’t want to be Janella Spears, a nurse who lost $400,000. Gave all of her money,
took out a lean on her house and her car, that were already paid for, and then finally
realized, “Oh, this is a scam.” So the crazy thing about this is that this
scam is actually growing. Even though you would think that people are–
No way! No way! Everybody knows it! The most recent number that I found, in 2013
for worldwide losses to 4-1-9 scams, guess. Worldwide? I don’t know, 20-30-40 million
dollars? 12.7 billion dollars.
Wait, in one year? Yeah, and it was increasing by hundreds of
millions of dollars every year. In spite of email programs filtering out most of this
spam, it’s still working, it’s still getting better.
Now if you want to have a little fun with these scammers, go to your spam folder, go
to your trash folder, your junk mail filter. This is a bad idea, it’s a bad idea.
It’s not! It’s so much fun, there are entire websites that communities have sprung up around
that all bait these guys to waste their time. And you’re right, that is the only way to
punish them so to speak, is to get them to invest heavily with their time and then give
them no reward. My favorite story was the p-p-p-powerbook
scam, where somebody got a Nigerian scammer on the hook and said, “Hey man, yeah no, I
don’t have money but I’ve got this brand new powerbook. It’s from Apple, it’s normally
$2,500, can I just send that to you instead of the $500?” And the guy was like, “Well yes!”
And then a little thing he said, “Oh by the way, uhm, you know just as a courtesy to me,
would you list it as something besides a laptop? Otherwise I’ll have to pay a big old value-added
tax when it comes in.” He’s like, “I’ll make sure to do that,” and sends it, lists it as
a full $5,000 dollar powerbook. Sends a box of rocks over to this guy, and the guy had
to pay like a giant duty fee in order to receive nothing.
I actually was corresponding with a couple of them in preparation of this episode.
Wait, whoa whoa whoa, you mean you personally? Yes.
All right, go on. I went in to my spam filter and I spoke to
the governor of a bank? I didn’t know they had governors.
Money’s got to come from somewhere. This is a billion years long, also it calls
you, “Hello dear.” I know, I was touched by that intimacy, and
he was very friendly. I apologize for sending you this sensitive
information via email instead of certified mail post mail. Which by the way, this is
something that they call anchoring. The mere fact that he said, “certified mail post mail”
and he said that’s how he should have gotten in touch with you lends legitimacy that’s
not there. Russel says you’re owed 9,850,000 United States
dollars, which he made sure to spell out for you, literally. What did you do?
I emailed him, okay, so first I emailed him back. Now there are techniques to bait these
guys that I learned after I screwed it up. To Russel Nelson, I said, “Mister Nelson,
this is quite a surprise. I had no idea that I had relatives in London. I will of course
do all that I can to assist with this matter, and I’m incredibly excited. Half of that money
is mine? What a fantastic bit of news! -Jason” Russel comes back with essentially what is
the first email re-worded. I want this information, full name, contact address, profession, nationality,
etc. Here’s where I ruined it. “Russel, this is all very exciting! I’m very
interested in participating. You said that this money comes from my deceased relatives
in London? At first I didn’t know who you were talking about, but now I’m thinking it
was my cousin, Dan. We haven’t heard from Dan in a long time, which is fine. After that
one Thanksgiving where he drank an entire bottle of Amarreto, we couldn’t be happier
that he disappeared. He always talked about going to London to open a fish and chips business.
I thought that was weird, until I found out that chips are actually french fries! Isn’t
that crazy?!” In this guys mind, all he heard was this giant
flashing neon sign, saying, “Smart! Smart! Smart! Smart!”
“Anyway, Dan was a drunk, and is probably the one who died, but if he’s got all of this
money that he’s leaving to me, then I guess the fish and french fries business really
worked out for him. So on to your questions, I see that you’re asking me for my profession.
That’s a hard one to answer tbh, I’m kind of a free spirit. I don’t appreciate the confines
of employment, I just consider myself something of a rogue. Should I just put ‘rogue’ there?
Thank you, Jason.” I did not think it was possible, but it turns
out you’re the bigger —hole in this story. How dare you! I lost my cousin to alcoholism!
He sends you a gift certificate from Amaretto, is that what it is? Russel’s so insensitive. — CC BY BIZARRE MAGIC —