AS YOU ENJOY our Year in Review special issue, I’d like to present to you something near and dear to my heart: My choice for the year’s best Nigerian Scam letter.
Longtime readers will know of my abiding love and connoisseur’s appreciation for the highly creative, if quite illegal, literary genre known as the “Nigerian Scam”: A time–honored technique – originating in but not limited to Africa – of using creative writing to tug on the heartstrings, and wallets, of the gullible and the stupid.
This year’s winning e–mail was forwarded to me by my main “connection” for Nigerian Scam letters, Savannah’s Jack Fitzgerald, who shares my curatorial affection for these wonderful gems of the writer’s craft –– all the more amazing in that they’re written by totally anonymous people for whom English is not a native language.
While 2010’s winning e–mail was no doubt ghost–written by a professional scam writer somewhere in the Third World, for official purposes we give the award to the nominal author: Miss Roseline Laurent of the Cote d’Ivoire, “the only Daughter of my parents, late Mr and Mrs Laurent Roussel.”
Like any well–established artistic tradition, such as a sonnet or a blues song, a true Nigerian Scam e–mail must follow a time–honored template to be authentic. The opening is crucial, setting the tone for the emotional appeal to come.
Miss Roseline’s intro, while not great, does solidly combine modesty with a certain youthful bravado:
It is my pleasure to contact you for a business venture which I intend to establish in your country, though I have not met you before but I believe one has to risk, confiding in someone to succeed in this life.
Indeed – why would I want to help someone who doesn’t have the guts to help themselves? The resilient young Roseline goes on:
I am 22 years old, a Christian but I was meant to understand that a woman has no religion until she belong to a family, I can abide to any religious community as long as it is the same God.
What a pleasure to be contacted out of the blue by a young person with such clear moral vision! So unusual these days!
Now comes the heart of any authentic Nigerian Scam letter, what I call the “habeas corpus.” This is where the writer spells out the specific dollar amount of the funds they are trying to move out of their beleaguered home country.
Remember, without the habeas corpus – without a specific reference to the exact dollar amount – it’s not a real Nigerian Scam, it’s just a scam. Beware of cheap imitations!
Here’s Roseline’s expert habeas, which she prefaces with a nod to the state of the world which is surprisingly wise for one so “young”:
I have prayed for God’s direction to find a honest and truthful person to assist me with this, I know it will not be easy trusting one another this time around because of what is going on in the world today but I hope for the will of God to take place. I am seeking your attention to help me transfer the sum of Six Million, Three hundred and fifty thousand America dollars (US $6,350,000.00) in your account and to help me invest it in a lucrative business in your country. Please it is more than urgent.
“I know it will not be easy trusting one another this time around because of what is going on in the world today.” One of the small but necessary literary touches that shows the real craftsmanship and sense of journalistic immediacy typical of the expert Nigerian Scam writer.
Having ably delivered the habeas corpus, Roseline now goes to what I term the “appeal to decency.” In other words, the reason why she, and not anyone else, is deserving of our help.
This is generally the writer’s chance to really stretch, to push their scamming talents to the max. Here’s Roseline’s game–changing appeal to decency:
Before the sudden death of my father in a private hospital here in Abidjan, he secretly called me at his bed side, when I sat down to listen to him, he started crying and complained that I am too young to be managing my life now with no one to take care of me without knowing that he is leaving me all alone in this wicked world, That I have not finished my university education as he planned for me and he also revealed this to me.
Notice the attention to detail, another hallmark of the best Nigerian Scam writers. It’s not just a hospital, but a “private” hospital. Her father didn’t just call her to his bedside, he “secretly” called her.
And the pathos of a young woman leaving her father’s caring embrace to face the cruel world on her own, a poignancy put into even more stark relief by her inspired stream–of–consciousness writing style! Face it, if all Hollywood screenwriters were this skillful at painting a detailed picture of real human emotion, you’d go the movies every night of the week.
Of course all this is a set–up for Roseline’s “ask.” Like Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, the Nigerian Scam writer lives by the principle of ABC: Always Be Closing:
I have decided to offer you 20% of the total amount of money as a compensation for your efforts input in this transaction, that is just for your honest and sincere assistance to me, then you handle and control the investment while I forward my education there in your country and joins you in the investment as soon as I finish my education under your guardian. I will fly to meet you there in your country for the investment and to start my new life with you after the success of this transaction.
A bold and brilliant touch: “to start my new life with you.” This one line is what finally separated Roseline’s e–mail from the rest of the deserving finalists. This is a truly daring creative move for a Nigerian Scam writer, really pushing the typical envelope and taking the letter into a whole new place not limited to mere financial concerns. Genius!
There were so many other entrants this year that could have won, such as Lewis, whose father, a “wealthy gold and cocoa merchant” was killed during “last year’s Rable attact.”
Or Rose, who wants someone else to have her money since her “husbands relatives are into serious radical organization and I don’t want a situation where this money will be used in an unholy manner.”
Or Justina, who wanted to escape her country “after my fathers second wife poisoned my mother to death.”
But this year the prize goes to Roseline. She can claim her prize money from us by sending us 20 percent of the transaction up front, along with her contact info and Social Security number...
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