Nigeria launches Web site to target e-mail scams

By BRIAN SULLIVAN   Computerworld

Have you received an e-mail claiming to be from Nigerian government
officials or petroleum executives trying to smuggle money out of
their country? Are you getting tired of spiking all that Nigerian spam?

Well the Nigerian government is sick of those scams, too.

The African nation, through its high commission in the U.K., recently created
a Web site to target the scheme and offer tips on combating fraud and how to
legitimately invest in Nigeria.

A spokesman for the high commission in London confirmed that his government
set up the site to help "investors in Europe and elsewhere" deal with fraud.
However, he declined to discuss the site in any detail.

The site targets the most common scam, in which the spammer says he is a government
official and has a large amount of money that he wants to get out of Nigeria. In the
e-mail, the spammer says he's looking for help and usually asks for a processing fee,
a bank account number or a blank sheet of corporate letterhead.

It's an old scam in a modern package, said Stanton McCandlish, technical director
at the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation. McCandlish said he
thinks the scam is so outrageous that no one is taken in by it and wonders if any
good will come out of Nigeria's efforts to stop it.

"This really doesn't have anything to do with Nigeria per se, and I think their site
is more about saving face," McClandish said. "I don't think this is going to slow anything."

However, Tom Geller, founder of SpamCon Foundation, an antispam group also
in San Francisco, said he thinks the Nigerians deserved credit for addressing the
problem publicly.

"It is interesting to me that the government itself is taking this seriously," Geller
said, adding that not enough governments worldwide are addressing the problem of unwanted e-mail.

Both McClandish and Geller agreed that more has to be done overall to attack
spam, but they differed on their approach. Geller said he believes it's best to
attack the problem on a number of levels including government intervention.

However, McClandish said too much time has been wasted lobbying governments
trying to get antispam laws passed. The solution, he said, is through technology.

"Technical fixes probably shouldn't be that hard, but years and years have been
wasted lobbying," McClandish said.

Both agreed that the amount and extent of spam has taxed governments' efforts
to combat it. Geller also said that antispam forces are further hindered because
spam laws tend to be civil infractions, not criminal, which leaves it up to individuals to prosecute.

Still, Geller said, he was cheered by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's
recent actions against spammers and by the Nigerians' attempt as well.

"It is always encouraging when a government looks out for the people's
best interest," Geller said.

In the meantime, the Nigerian government is encouraging anyone who
has direct contact with the spammers to send information to its Web
site. The site has begun a collection of fake documents that some of the scammers are using.

The site also lays out other scams, including an appeal for Americans
to coach basketball in Nigeria that asks for a $150 registration fee.
Another scam offers the recipient 20% of millions of dollars held in
a Nigerian bank account that is supposedly held by a businessman who
died in a plane crash. The user is asked to stake a claim of being the
deceased person's next of kin, and a fee is requested to process the will.

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