You've probably seen this con game yourself. Some Nigerian nobleman, trapped in his native land by political chicanery, has $70 million or $1.2 billion or some other high amount of "totally legitimate savings." He needs to spirit it out of the country before it can be seized by the (he must admit) Communist thieves who run the government. So he sends you (because he knows you to be a person of uprightness and probity) an anonymous e-mail, generally in all capital letters, begging--"in the strictest confidence"--that you help him. Basically, he needs a place to park the dough for about two weeks. So if you will just send him the particulars of your bank account--passbook number, routing numbers, passwords, and your social security number--he will let you keep a tenth of it. Hell, half of it. I shouldn't be doing this but I'm feeling generous today. He needs your help that bad.
There is no record of anyone's ever having been taken in by this scam. Understandably. I would rather lose my life's savings and be destitute forever than spend five minutes looking at the expression on the police detective (or wife) to whom I had to explain what I'd done.
Meanwhile the Nigerian-wire-transfer scammers have moved from Nigeria to Niger and are now aiming as high as you can go. On Monday, this message was forwarded to me by a friend.
Dear Mister Gaorge Bush:
Please keep this in the strictest confidense. You do not know me, but my name is Umbuto Johnson, and I am the grandson of Ashtari P. Johnson, in charge of the nuclear programme of the African country of Niger.
For severale years, my grandfather had been secretly selling radoactiv materiels to the little known country of Iraqe. He was given the sum of twenty million dollars by Saddem Hussan, of Iraqe, for this materiels. When my grandfather was discovered, two years ago, he was shot by the government. The money from those sales however remained hidden to all.
Before he was caoght, my grandfather shared with me his secret, and gave me instructions on how to move the moneys out of the country. In order to do this, I need the help of a trustworthy American friend and this is why I am seeking to write to you today.
In order to recieve the moneys I must pay a fee bribe of twenty thousand American dollars. I do not have this moneys. If you can send to me these moneys, I will split my grandfathers moneys with you.
Please tell nobody of this message, for I fear I will be in grave danger if it is known. I am relying on you, George Bush, to keep my secret. Respond to me and I will tell you how to send the moneys to me.
Now, I'm not as naive as you think. This has parody written all over it, and I won't accept it as genuine until I see this week's Onion. But if it's real, what does it say about Umbuto's state of mind? Does he think our president would take $10 million to profit off of Saddam Hussein's weapons trade? If he does, it's insulting. But if he doesn't, it's kind of flattering, because that must mean he expects some civic-minded American patriot to take the initiative to shell out for his country (perhaps after administering a friendly scolding on the subject of I-before-E-except-after-C). Umbuto's faith in the American character is touching. It would almost be an honor to be fleeced by him.
Christopher Caldwell is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.