Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Nigerians Learn from Bernie Madoff

Nigerian efforts towards fraud through electronic mail are now so commonplace that they are more a source of humor than victimization. (The "Annual Nigerian EMail Conference" is now in its third year!) However, fraud is still a serious problem; and this morning's BBC NEWS Web site has a report on just how serious it can get:

Justice Secretary Jack Straw has been the victim of Nigerian fraudsters who sent out hundreds of e-mails in his name asking for money.

The e-mails claimed he had lost his wallet on charity work in Africa and needed 3,500 US dollars to get home.

Messages headed the Right Hon Jack Straw MP were sent to council bosses, government chiefs and others.

The fraudsters are thought to have hacked into computers at Mr Straw's Blackburn constituency office.

Mr Straw has confirmed the e-mails had been sent to a "significant number of people" in his address book but he said there were no security issues as it was his Blackburn e-mail address rather than his ministerial account that was targeted.

I would like to suggest that this new "advance" into fraud be called "the Madoff effect." Bernard Madoff could not have perpetrated his fraud of epic proportions without working from a solid base of personal trust. This trust had as much to do with how he was viewed in specific social circles as it had to do with his professional reputation. Straw was a victim of those who appreciated the level of trust that he had established and could mine his address book for those who trusted him the most. What the fraudsters overlooked, however, was that their targets knew Straw well enough to ring him up (presumably on his cell phone) and ask if he really needed that help!

Admittedly, this strategy would probably not have saved Madoff's victims from their current predicament. Clearly, the most important question was, "Will my investment really return those promised results?" Unfortunately, the only person they could ask was Madoff himself; so they had to fall back on relying on their trust in him. Straw avoided his own victimization because the trust of his friends included checking up on him.

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