Considering that 419 scams have been well-known since the 1970s, this trend is particularly disturbing. However, Ultrascan says scammers are expanding their operations and shifting their focus to emerging Internet markets, where there's more fresh meat getting online every day.
According to the firm, which analyzed 8,503 cases across 152 countries in 2009, victims lost $9.3 billion in the last year alone, compared to $6.3 billion on 2008. Although the majority of AFF is still organized by people living in Nigeria, it's not always carried out by people there anymore—Ultrascan's 225-page report says that a minimum of 51,761 scammers perpetrated their crimes from 69 other countries with another 250,000 doing so from Nigeria.
A major reason for the growth is that scammers are no longer simply sending their "proposals" to the US and Europe. China, India, South Korea, Vietnam, and other countries are falling prey to 419 scams en masse, it seems, though Ultrascan points out that people in different countries tend to fall for specific variations of the scam. For example, the Chinese tend to fall for lottery or cash-on-delivery scams, while those in India tend to fall for low-end job and student visa scams.
With more than $41 billion lost to date and a 5 percent growth rate per year, it certainly seems as if 419 scams are not going away anytime soon. Ultrascan also cautions that, because there is no centralized place to track and report 419 and AFF scams, its estimates are mere minimums—the actual numbers are likely to be far higher.
Nigerians have become understandably sensitive to their image being smeared thanks to 419 scammers, though Nigeria's officials haven't done much to help on the PR front. Nigerian high commissioner Sunday Olu Agbi made headlines in 2008 by saying that victims were just as greedy as the scammers themselves, and therefore just as guilty for helping to keep the scams alive.
Because it's so hard for law enforcement in various countries to fight scammers from overseas, a whole movement of scam baiters has come out to lead scammers in circles in the name of vigilanteism (we gave it a try when scammers tried to use one of our staffers' homes as bait, but didn't last long). Some don't believe in the ethics of scam baiting, but even Ultrascan doesn't seem to have much faith in law enforcement's ability to help. "It's obvious that law enforcement's feeble attempts to control this fraud have failed, as evidenced by 3 decades of exponential 419 AFF growth," reads the report.
Ultrascan FIU Financial Intelligence Unit - A mixture of intelligence gathering, investigations, reputational risk mitigation and Innovative Technology in line of objectives. Focused on external information and stakeholder engagement, to detect exposure to financial crime risk.