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To get to the bottom of these scams, Brian travels halfway around the world to Nigeria, home to more than 13 million people who earn an average of $1 a week.

There he learns that scammers are known as "419 men," which refers to the section of Nigerian criminal code that makes it illegal to obtain money under false pretenses. "Until very recently, it was a law that was almost never enforced," Brian says. "Police here say at any given time, there are thousands of 419 men online at small Internet cafes trying to scam Americans."

Local investigators help Brian infiltrate a cafe, where they catch con men in the act. One of the men they arrest is in the middle of trying to cheat an American woman who had just sent him her photo and bank account number. Brian says Americans are the primary targets of these scams because scammers see them as "mugus"—which means "big, gullible fools."

Brian says one of the reasons Nigeria is a source of so many scams is because a large number of citizens are living below the poverty level. "This is a desperately poor country with wonderful people who are very intelligent, a good school system [but] no jobs," Brian says. "It's [also] a corrupt country where the leaders have been corrupt for years. They've doomed their people to a life of poverty, and the lesson has been taught that you can get away with crimes and nothing happens."

For years, Nigerian con men got away with their crimes and made small fortunes...but not anymore. Pressure from the United States and Great Britain has prompted the government to start cracking down. The men caught during Brian's investigation are facing criminal charges.
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FROM: What the New Scam Artists Don't Want You to Know
Published on January 01, 2006

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