Anders - whose last name will not be revealed because of a cranky and embarrassed Nigerian - receives in 2006 an email from two Nigerian men; Benardo Tobi and Philip Nwosu. He quickly realizes that this is a classic Nigerian scam, the purpose of which is to make its recipient believe that there is money to be earned by following its instructions. Clearly too good to be true.
"They talked about laundering money. "I was going to receive a lot of money if I could just help out with some simple transactions," says Anders.
"Nigerian scams", also called "419 scams", are a type of fraud originating from - among several other countries - Nigeria. While such scams are not limited to Nigeria, the nation has become synonymous with fraud of this nature and has earned a reputation for being the centre of email scam crimes. The number 419 refers to the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud.
Back in Norway, Anders thought that if these guys would not think twice about robbing him of all his pennies, why not teach them a lesson? After some hard thinking, he dreamed up a creative and absurd plan.
Big sport - lots of money
"Dear Mr. Tobi, I am Reodor Felgen, president of the International Gravity Racer Association," Anders opens with in his email.
Reodor Felgen is a classic character from the most widely seen Norwegian film of all time; "The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix" ("Flåklypa Grand Prix" in Norwegian). In the movie, Felgen and friends designs a race gravity car called "Il Tempo Gigante." The international Gravity Racer Association of course only exists in Anders´ universe.
A gravity racer is a vehicle without a motor built for racing and is propelled by gravity.
Anders explains he is looking for someone to open an affiliate of the association in West Africa. He implies that as the gravity racer sport is huge and still growing in Northern Europe, big money is involved. He mentions thousands of spectators and competition prizes of up to 50,000 Euros. He outlines the financial success of the association and boasts a yearly surplus of 3.2 million Norwegian crowns (USD 525,000) in recent years. He promises the necessary capital to build an African subsidiary. Are the gentlemen interested?
Takes the bait
The Nigerians do not waste any time. A next-day reply pops up in Anders´ inbox where Mr. Tobi is very interested in gravity racer cars and more than eager to find out more about the project. Lawyer Benardo Tobi signs the email.
"Reodor Felgen" offers a same-day reply to say how pleased he is that Tobi has familiarised himself with the sport. He goes on to explain how new affiliates gets started, referring to similar projects around Europe:
Step 1: Build a Gravity Racer; He briefly explains which materials are needed and how to build a gravity racer, enclosing some drawings.
Step 2: Test drive. Drive downhill, minimum 30 metres to check brakes and steering wheel are working properly.
Step 3: Fill out forms: After steps 1 and 2, you will receive some forms to complete and return to the association. Pictures documenting steps 1 and 2 must be enclosed.
"Felgen" assures them that representatives from the association will fly to Nigeria once these steps are fulfilled to help out with the establishment of the affiliate. Tobi tells "Felgen" that the 160 million Nigerian population offers a gigantic recruitment pool, saying he believes gravity racing has the potential to become a huge sport in the country. However, he wants "Felgen" to send them a prototype of a gravity racer to help them get started.
All words, no play
Anders quickly realises that the boys in Nigeria may be all over the idea of easy cash, but not very interested in working to earn it. They are told to show proof that they have built a Gravity Racer, so "Felgen" reassures them that there are no specific technical demands, and that building a car should not be too hard.
Tobi still wants a prototype, claiming it impossible to build one without studying one. "Felgen" says building a Gravity Racer is an easy task, briefly outlining the building process, and assures them that any costs involved will be refunded. He stresses that if Tobi does not follow instructions, he needs to seek another candidate. The next day, Tobi replies that they are "all in", and will start building the Gravity Racer at once.
After 11 days, "Felgen" follows up and is told all is well, that an expert has been hired to find materials and the car will be produced. "Trust us," they say. Another month passes and the excuses escalate. Suddenly Tobi backs out, saying his partner Mr. Philip I. Nwosu will replace him; "a god-fearing, hard-working man with integrity."
After sending an unacceptably poor picture of their gravity racer prototype, email conversations heats up between the parties with more excuses from Nigeria claiming that police permission is required to test-drive it.
When a proper image finally pops into "Felgen´s" inbox, he laughs hard and long. The gravity racer looks highly sophisticated, a chair attached to a few wheels. "Felgen" politely replies, saying the board of the association are very pleased but needs some action shots of them downhill testing the racer. It soon becomes clear that Nwosu has a hunch that something is amiss when he asks for the full address and phone number of the association.
Two months after the "cooperation" started, pictures of a test drive finally arrive. Anders, now satisfied at having fooled the Nigerian scammers, leaves it unanswered. After several emails from a very grumpy Nwosu, Anders replies, explaining he has been very busy, but will get back to him very soon.
Six months after the first email, Nwosu realises it is all a scam and writes an email all in CAPITAL letters, venting his anger and frustration, claiming he will press charges.
"I dragged this thing out for 6 months," Anders says. "The point was to waste their time instead of having them scam Norwegian pensioners or others that might be led to believe there is money to be made from these scams."
A billion dollar business
The online forum 419eater.com is the place to visit for those who want to turn the tables on the scammers "The Nigerians know about us, so we have to be creative," says Anders.
So-called "Nigeria-letters" represent an organized, billion-dollar crime, believed to be the country´s fourth biggest "economy." Many people take the bait because letters often have official letterheads and appear to be from prominent people. The business propositions often appear to be absurdly profitable.
Nigerian scammers also operate in online dating, something along these lines: An unusually beautiful woman contacts you, writes about your future together filled with love and devotion. Naïve men fall for this sweet talk, but then the day arrives that the woman admits to being low on cash, but wants nothing more than to visit. Perhaps you can send her some money for the plane fare?