Terms such as "Nigerian email scam," "Nigerian 419 scam," have become standard terms for promoting the suggestion that Nigeria is the world's major source of Internet fraud without reference to official statistics on global incidence of Internet fraud.
In spite of the impression fostered that Nigerians are the world's major perpetrators of online fraud, official statistics reveal a very different picture. We shall be examining comprehensive statistics released by the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) in 2009.
The IC3 Website, according to CFR.org, received 275,284 complaint submissions between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2008. The complaints were related to many different types of Internet fraud including "auction fraud, non-delivery, and credit/debit card fraud...computer intrusions and spam/unsolicited e-mail." Out of the total, IC3 referred 72,940 complaints to law enforcement agencies, majority being fraudulent in nature and involving financial loss totalling about $264.6 million.
IC3 statistics showed that 66.1% of reported cases of Internet fraud were from the United States with other countries such as the U .K., Nigeria, Canada, China and South Africa among other top global perpetrators.
The world's top three countries were the United States, United Kingdom and Nigeria. While 66 percent of Internet fraud was perpetrated by Americans, approximately 10 percent came from the United Kingdom and 8 percent from Nigeria. Canada, China, South Africa and Ghana followed the top three in the stated order. The statistics showed that the greatest concentration per capita of Internet scammers in the world occur in the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.) and Nevada in the United States. Assessed in absolute numbers, California, New York and Florida are the world's top three. The figures for the top ten American states are listed below:
1. California 15.8%
2. New York 9.5%
3. Florida 9.4%
4. Texas 6.4%
5. D.C. 5.2%
6. Washington 3.9%
7. Illinois 3.3%
8. Georgia 3.1%
9.New Jersey 2.8%
A summary of the top ten countries follows:
1. United States 66.1%
2. United Kingdom 10.5%
3. Nigeria 7.5%
4. Canada 3.1%
5. China 1.6%
6. South Africa 0.7%
7. Ghana 0.6%
8. Spain 0.6%
9. Italy 0.5%
Statistics available to IC3 also showed that between 87 percent and 76 percent of all Internet fraud reported between 2001 and 2008 came from the United States.
So why are Nigerians singled out for reference?
The Internet is literally awash with detailed information about "Nigerian scam" and how to avoid and fight it. You only need to Google "Nigerian scam" (8 percent of the total) to have a mass of information thrown up. But Google "American scam" (66 percent of the total) and the response you get by comparison is resounding silence.
The practice of singling out Nigerians for reference in the discussion of Internet fraud developed alongside the emergence of an online culture referred to as "Digilante culture." According to sociologist Jessie Daniels, her colleague Dara Byrne, who coined the term in a paper presented at the Eastern Regional Sociology Meetings (ESS), titled: “Digilante Culture: The Rhetorical Performance of Justice and Punishment on the Wild Wild Web,” said:
"Digilantism is the term I use to refer to the growing practice amongst some netizens, mostly based in the United States and the United Kingdom, who mete out extrajudicial punishment to cyber-criminals such as scammers, hackers, and pedophiles. Although digilantism is a growing internet subculture, short of legal research on cyber-crime, little attention has been paid to the rhetorical, cultural, and socio-historical dimension of this widely practiced do-it-yourself form of justice. The paucity of digital media research is particularly surprising given the explosion of popular and scholarly rhetoric on cyber-terrorism, digital surveillance, and internet security and safety. The purpose of my paper then is to address this gap by developing a typology of digilante justice. I focus on responses to real cyber-crimes on a range of sites, including Nigerian 419..."
The major manifestation of "Digilantism" is Americans pursuing Nigerian email scammers in a practice known as “scam baiting.” Racism Review details disturbing parallels between the practice of "Nigerian scam baiting" and what used to be known as "niggerbaiting.":
"Sodini and other 'scam baiters' like 'Rover,' a scam baiter since the 1990s who owns the scambaiting site 419eater.com, get alleged scammers to make fools of themselves by posing in photos and holding signs with offensive statements....These photos are called 'trophies' in the parlance of the scam baiters, and in many ways are reminiscent of the photographs of lynchings that were once popular in the U.S. The radio show 'This American Life' did an episode about the men (yes, they’re all men) who do this. Perhaps not surprisingly, neither the CNN/Money.com report nor the 'This American Life' episode mention race as even a factor at play in, if not an underlying motive for, these transnational vigilantes. Certainly none of the reporting that’s been done about this to date mentions any similarity with lynching photography."
The cybercafe also has a fast food and restaurant operation
The singling out of Nigerians for reference as Internet fraudsters and the promotion of this negative perception by "mainstream" media is a manifestation of what American sociologists like Jessie Daniels have termed "cyber racism." The term was originally coined by Les Back in 2002 in reference to manifestation of racist rhetoric on white supremacist web sites, but was applied by Jessie Daniels and her colleagues to the practice of "Nigerian scam baiting" on Internet.
According to Jessie Daniels: "Old forms of overt racism now exist alongside emergent new forms of cyber racism. One of those new forms of cyber racism is the phenomena of white Americans pursuing Nigerian email scammers, a practice known as 'scam baiting.'"
From a purely scientific sociological perspective, racism is the only valid definition of a situation in which 66 percent of Internet fraud emanate for the U.S. but only Nigerians are identified as international fraudsters and regularly pilloried, "baited" and "lynched" on Internet based on assumptions of validity of that perception.
The attendant at this cybercafe told Digital Journal reporter proudly: "We have zero tolerance by fraudsters."
Nigerian cyber crime: Current trendsDigital Journal reporter had a chat with Chike, a cybercafe attendant, on the current trends in the incidence of cyber crime among Nigerian users of cybercafe services.Chike said that with increasing Internet penetration more Nigerians are coming to Internet to do legitimate business. He acknowledged, however, that the incidence of Internet fraud in Nigeria remains unreasonably high but said that what Nigerian youths need is education on how to engage themselves profitably online without having to resort to crime.