Jewish Journal


August 23, 2007

Conning a con man


Rich Siegel's day typically consisted of waking up, going to work, coming home and checking his e-mail. This routine probably would have continued had Siegel not become a bit curious about an e-mail he received from a Nigerian businessman offering him 25 percent of $45.5 million in exchange for his bank account information.

What a deal, right?

Amused by this utter sham, Siegel replied using a fake personality and new e-mail account, to find out what exactly was behind this seemingly incredible offer.

In his book, "Tuesdays with Mantu, My Adventures with a Nigerian Con Artist," Siegel travels deep into the cyber world of the Nigerian Advance Fee Scam and discovers just how greedy these foreign con artists are, and how far they'll go to get your money.

After watching a special on "60 Minutes," Siegel was somewhat intrigued when this get-rich-quick scheme presented itself. The scam, as Siegel describes it, is "the promise of a huge cache of money ... " from a wrongfully imprisoned member of the Nigerian royal family. A bank account is then required to retrieve the fortune that was "lost in the bureaucratic red tape of the Nigerian Banking System" (a plausible enough scheme, considering most Americans believe Nigerians to be corrupt and backward).

Through the ruse of several unbelievably humorous characters, such as a lonely widow with a huge inheritance and a new immigrant with his eye on the American Dream, Siegel documents his experiences with these scammers and illustrates their extreme persistence, while exploiting their immoral behavior.

Believing himself to be smarter than the foreign cons think he is, Siegel admits he acted "out of sheer curiosity ... I had no idea what it would turn into."

Instead of providing the appropriate information, Siegel continuously beats around the bush and irritates the con artists. In an e-mail, Siegel writes "I don't mean to sound distrustful, but Mantu, you and I have met [via e-mail] only less than two weeks ago, and then only over the Internet.... Is there a way you could send me an advance or some kind of gesture of good faith, like $1,000? Or even $500?"

Siegel even goes so far as to set up a fake voicemail service using a free Web site as a means of stringing the con artists along just a bit more.

"I figured every day I was eating up his time was a day he was not scamming some old geezer out of his retirement," he writes.

Siegel explains that these con artists steal about $300 million each year from Internet users.

"If it didn't work, they wouldn't keep doing it," he says.

But in repeatedly frustrating and annoying these "businessmen," he realizes that he has been in fact conning the con artists.

For those who wish to follow in his footsteps, Siegel advises to "be careful because you are dealing with a criminal element."

And for those Internet users who are not too familiar with spam "if it sounds too good to be true it probably is ... nobody wants to give you money for free ... there's no quick route to success."

Siegel is an art director for TBWA/Chiat/Day and has contributed to the writing of several successful movies and television shows. He plans to eventually write a sequel to the book -- as long as his spam keeps flowing.

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