How The 'Nigerian Prince' Scam Became An Entire Life-Style

Those phishing emails that look like they were written by three kids in a trenchcoat? That's a feature, not a bug.
How The 'Nigerian Prince' Scam Became An Entire Life-Style

Many nations are infamous for their organized crime. Italy has the mafia, China the triad, and America has so many gangs ranging from biker to street to prison that it's really about finding which is the best fit for you. But in the shadiest corners of Nigeria resides perhaps the most menacing criminal syndicate of the modern age. The digital era raiders known only as the Yahoo Boys.

If asked to give three facts about Nigeria, most folks will immediately answer: those Nigerian Prince emails (and then just mumble a bit for the other two). The global success of the 419 fraud hasn't just put Nigeria on the map in the worst way possible; it has inspired many economically anxious Nigerian youths to turn internet fraud into their country's main export. These Yahoo Boys, named after their favorite brand of burner emails, commit every type of digital con under the sun, from money-wire email scams to phishing to pretending to like your dick pics on Tinder.

Better that you see them coming than the other way around.

And they're not just a bunch of ashy nerds sitting in a basement tricking tech unsavvy First Worlders into buying them Dogecoins. Okay -- a lot of them are. But yahoo-yahoo (online fraud) is a big organized crime-business in Nigeria. Yahoo boys form crews, bribe officials, and execute corporate heists for tens of millions of dollars like they're in a Very Online Ocean's 11 crew. Their "distinctive lifestyle" has also made them celebrities in Nigerian culture. The biggest Yahoo boys boast about their luxury cars, private jets, and off-shore bank accounts to their millions of followers on Instagram. There have even been Billboard charting songs written about that Yahoo Boy life -- much like the Mexican cartels' narcocorridos, except less about decapitating a whole village and more about tricking a grandma out of 800 bucks.

That's right, those weirdly capitalized boner pills make Nigerian fraudsters millions of dollars each year. Just from the Nigerian Prince scam alone, Yahoo Boys managed to cash in $700,000. In 2019. How does a dumb internet scam so old it predates the book still manage to fool anyone today? Yahoo-yahoo internet scams are psychologically complex and meticulously socially engineered -- not despite their embarrassing spelling errors and badly Photoshopped PayPal logos, but because of them. If you raise an eyebrow at the weirdly specific Hot Aunts In Your Area ads or at the fact that your bank sent you an email from an address that's a long string of random letters and numbers, they don't want you to click through and waste their time. Their spam is kept crap on a meticulously specific level that filters out anyone who isn't ridiculously gullible, letting them prey on the elderly, dumb and mind-numbingly lonely in peace with little fear that their marks are just stringing them along to karma farm the conversation on Reddit. 

It may not come as a surprise, then, that the average Yahoo Boy isn't some street urchin but a well-educated university student -- one who has seen the Nigerian job market and has found a better use for his dorm wi-fi than sending in midterm essays. And despite the occasional flashy raid and public condemnation, the Nigerian government isn't doing much to stop the digital flimflam men that plague our spam filters and most gullible internet users every day. To find out why that is, I emailed a Nigerian government official asking for a quote, which he was happy to provide after I loaned him some money to clear up a banking issue he was havinGODDAMNIT. Not again.

For more weird tangents, please provide Cedric with your social security number on Twitter

Top Image: Naria Marley

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