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A (Nudge) Psychology Reading of the "Nigerian Scam"



The “Nigerian Scam” (so named because of its prevalence in the country, especially during the 1990s, then continued by many organizations in other different regions around the world) is a scheme in which the sender requests help in facilitating a transfer of money. In return, he offers a large commission, sometimes up to several million dollars. The scammers request that money be sent to pay for some of the costs associated with the transfer. These attempts (also known as “advance fee fraud “or “419 fraud” - there is a section in the Nigerian Criminal Code, i.e. Section 419, that point at this type of fraud as illegal), are widely regarded as a joke among digital natives. However, forms and variations of the Nigerian Scam have been successful since the 16th century and continue to do so, even in the 21st century. The longevity of the scam hints at the exploitation of very basic human processes. Therefore, this article tries to analyse these processes from a psychological standpoint, trying to derive the mechanisms that these texts exploit. The different phases of the scam (from the creation of the target group, until the final contact) are analysed from the psychology of persuasion as well as behavioural economics standpoints – both being subsumed under the label of “Nudging” – trying to identify the settings, scenarios, framings, and signals which make the scam one of the most successful scams in human history


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