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I am a Nigerian Prince, and I have a large sum of money that I’d like to transfer to your bank account…
You open your email today and, untouched by a spam filter, is an email addressed to YOU from an unknown contact in Nigeria. You open it up and scan the email—a death, a large sum of money, next of kin, some sort of shady dealing under the table before the government can tax it.
All you need to do is send your bank account information and social security number.
Now, in the real world, we know this to be a scam meant to divest you of your life’s savings, but assume, for a moment, that you’ve never seen an email like this before.
You would have reason to be skeptical, so let’s pretend that you ignore it. The idea of a large sum of money has been planted in your head (and you begin to spin stories about how your life might change should you inherit that sum before the government gets its hands on it), but you mostly ignore the contents of the email and go about your day.
But as you head out to work, you see a billboard with a smiling person sitting on a tropical beach, sipping on a cocktail, and holding money in their hands. The text of the billboard reads: Give away your bank account number—Nigerian riches await!
Hm, you think, shaking your head. I wonder….
You drive on.
At work, your coworkers are huddled around the coffee machine, talking in excited tones.
What’s going on? You ask.
We’re going in on Nigerian riches, one coworker replies.
You dig deeper. What do you mean?
Well, we all want to be happier, healthier, and richer, so we’re going to invest as a group in this offer that we got from a Nigerian prince. Haven’t you heard? It’s all the rage and guaranteed to get you rich.
One coworker pipes in: I did it before, but I only gave the last four of my social security number and the answer to my security question. If I had also given them my routing number and the full social security, I would be rich by now.
Another coworker shares: I gave my information once before, but it was to someone who said that I had inherited a “great amount of money” from a long lost relative in England. They just took all my money! I can’t believe I was so stupid. I won’t be tricked again—that’s why I’m going in on this Nigerian Prince thing: I saw on the Today Show that people are actually making money on it!
You go back to work, but now you’re thinking about the email. Maybe you should go for it…
While researching something online, you see an ad with a smiling person throwing money in the air. Get rich quick! It promises.
You click on it, knowing, instinctively, what it’s going to say.
Yep, it’s a blog post about money from Nigerian Princes. The Top Five Ways to Spend Your Money from Nigerian Princes.
At the end of the post, there’s a link to a guide written by a well-known Nigerian Prince guru on how to triple your riches in 30 days. Other posts on the website show correlations between better health, lower stress, and longer lives to those who have invested in and made money from emails from Nigerian Princes.
You bookmark it, just in case you want to check it out later.
The day is over. You go home and turn on the TV. There’s a sitcom on, with an episode where one of the characters gives her bank account information to someone masquerading as a Nigerian Prince—it was really a long-lost-next-of-kin in England to whom she gave her information! You laugh at how silly she is. You think about what your life would be like if you just gave your information to a Nigerian Prince.
Now, you and I know that this premise is utterly ridiculous, and that no one would really be silly enough to a) fall for a scam like this or b) advertise it on a billboard…
Or would they?
Substitute “weight loss” for “Nigerian Prince,” and you may begin singing a different tune.
In fact, even though you haven’t given away your social security or routing number, there’s a good chance that you’ve depleted a good chunk of your life’s savings on — and had your emotional and physical health taxed by — one of the biggest ongoing scams in history.
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