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Adventures with a Nigerian email fraudster

Scamming the scammers

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Book review We've all had an email from the nephew of a recently-murdered diamond mine owner. Or the daughter of an imprisoned army general. Or anyone else in west Africa with access to a vast fortune – if only we can help them release the cash.

Most of us recognise the Nigerian email scam and delete the messages. A few poor souls get sucked in and lose their savings. But Rich Siegel spotted the fraud, entered into an exchange for his own entertainment, and published the emails for ours.

His book, Tuesdays with Mantu: My Adventures with a Nigerian Con Artist, lets you follow his adventures as he takes the scammers on at their own game.

Tuesdays with Mantu

Siegel has been an advertising copywriter/creative director for more than 20 years. Mantu Ibrahim was simply a con artist who piqued his curiosity. Siegel assumed the fictional identity of Rich Gosinya, and replied to Mantu's offer of a share of the loot – expressed in that familiar syntax: USD $45m (FORTY FIVE MILLION, FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND UNITED STATES DOLLAR).

Much as the fraudsters embellish their emails with tales of dead relatives, government corruption and vast fortunes, Siegel revels in his characters. He tells Mantu of his own late Uncle Fred; of the great flange drought of 1979; of his job at the Tool & Dye Factory; of his daughters, Rhianon, Jewel, Tiffany and Cher. He asks Mantu for a small advance; he encourages Mantu to donate to Pastor Ralph Malph's collection for victims of the Iranian earthquake. And still Mantu fails to see that he is wasting his time. The correspondence only ends when Siegel fakes his own decapitation.

Fraudsters' emails keep coming, so Siegel engages again and again, each time inventing a more ludicrous character. The gullibility of the conmen is limitless. Boris Beecha Kockoff describes an America where the roads are paved with gold and the supermarkets are filled with avocados. Holden McGroyne laments his widgets and left-handed egg scramblers, his flim-flams and snipe-catchers.

Siegel is not the first to have fun with the scammers – there are websites that document similar exchanges. But Siegel does it better than most, and I'd much rather read a book than an ebook.

I've tried to engage with the con artists myself, but much less successfully than Siegel. Around two years ago, I tried to get an interview with a scammer for OUT-LAW. I replied to every Nigerian email that I received over a period of weeks, asking if the scammer would discuss his success rate, what got him into this work etc. I offered anonymity, but very few scammers replied. Those who did would ask: "Tell me what this involves; and are you still interested in the transaction?" I gave up.

Siegel does not delve beneath the surface. His book is played straight for laughs. Sometimes it feels like cheap shots from the bigger, smarter kid, but Siegel justifies his efforts in his introduction. "I figured everyday I was eating up Mr Ibrahim's time, was a day he was not scamming some old geezer out of his retirement fund," he writes. He acknowledges that he is the one with the education and the better command of English, but he warns against feeling sorry for the crook. "He is a predator," he reasons. "And undeserving of any sympathy."

Tuesdays with Mantu is an easy read, and Siegel's imagination is entertaining throughout. You'll laugh, then feel bad about laughing, then laugh some more.

Price: $10.87 from Amazon.com or £14.00 from Amazon.co.uk

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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