Posts Tagged: 419 scams

Sep 13

‘Yahoo Boys’ Have 419 Facebook Friends

Earlier this week, I wrote about an online data theft service that got hacked. That compromise exposed a user base of mostly young Nigerian men apparently engaged in an array of cybercrime activities — from online dating scams to 419 schemes. It turned out that many of these guys signed up for the data theft service using the same email address they used to register their Facebook accounts. Today’s post looks at the social networks between and among these individuals.

Of the nearly 3,000 BestRecovery users, about 280 of them had Facebook accounts tied to their BestRecovery email addresses. George Mason University associate professor Damon McCoy and several of his grad students volunteered to scrape those profiles that were open and map their social networks to see if there were any obvious or discernible patterns in the data.

The raw data itself — which ranked the BestRecovery users on number of connections they had to other users — was potentially useful, but difficult to parse into meaningful chunks. Oddly enough, as I was poring over that data I heard from Chris Ahlberg, the CEO of Recorded Future Inc., a Cambridge, Mass. software company that specializes in Web intelligence and predictive analytics. Ahlberg was writing to say that he enjoyed the blog — particularly the posts with data-intensive analyses — and that he’d be delighted to collaborate on a data-rich research project at some point. I told him his timing couldn’t have been more serendipitous.

Ahlberg and his team took the raw scraped data sets from the Facebook accounts and ran it through their cyber intelligence applications. In short order, they produced some very compelling and beautiful graphs, shown below.

Staffan Truvé, Recorded Future’s chief technology officer noted that — with few exceptions — the BestRecovery users largely appear to belong to one of two very separate social networks.

RecordedFuture's rendering of the Facebook profiles shows fairly two tight-knit social networks.

RecordedFuture’s rendering of the Facebook profiles shows fairly two tight-knit social networks.

“There appears to be two fairly separate, quite tightly knit networks, each with a few central leaders, and also with just a few individuals being the bridge between the two networks — and that those middlemen are themselves not connected,” said Staffan Truvé, Recorded Future’s chief technology officer.

I noted in my previous story that a majority of the BestRecovery keylog service users who had Facebook pages that reported a location listed either somewhere in Nigeria (usually Lagos), or Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Not surprisingly, those two geographic groups are generally represented by these two globs of Facebook users (with several exceptions of users who are from Nigeria but living in Kuala Lumpur and vice versa).

Here’s a closer look at the most influential/connected members at the center of Cluster 1 (upper in the diagram above)


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Apr 11

Where Did That Scammer Get Your Email Address?

You’ve seen the emails: They claim to have been sent by a financial institution in a faraway land, or from a corrupt bureaucrat in an equally corrupt government. Whatever the ruse, the senders always claim to need your help in spiriting away millions of dollars. These schemes, known as “419,” “advance fee” and “Nigerian letter” scams seemingly have been around forever and are surprisingly effective at duping people. But where in the world do these scammers get their distribution lists, and how did you become a target?

Some of the more prolific spammers rely on bots that crawl millions of Web sites and “scrape” addresses from pages. Others turn to sellers on underground cybercrime forums. Additionally, there are a handful of open-air markets where lists of emails are sold by the millions. If you buy in bulk, you can expect to pay about a penny per 1,000 addresses.

One long-running, open-air bazaar for email addresses is, which also goes by the name This enterprise is based in New Delhi, India, and advertises its email lists as “100% opt-in and 100 percent legal to use.” I can’t vouch for the company’s claims, but one thing seems clear: Many of its clients are from Nigeria, and many are fraudsters.

Stretching conspicuously across the middle of the site’s home page is a big green message to the site’s Nigerian clientele: “Don’t waste money/times/resources sending [Western Union or Moneygram], Use local deposit option.” The ad links to a page with a list of payment options, which shows that Nigerian customers can pay for their email lists by wiring the money directly from their bank accounts at several financial institutions in Lagos. further advises that, “Due to tremendously high rate of fraudulent payments we do not accept Credit Cards or PayPal.  E-Gold has closed, so we don’t accept it either.”

The site sells dozens of country-specific email lists.  Other lists are for oddly specific groups. For example, you can buy a list of one million insurance agent emails for $250. 300 beans will let you reach 1.5 million farmers;  $400 closes on 4 million real estate agents. Need to recruit a whole mess of money mules right away? No problem: You can buy the email addresses of 6 million prospective work-at-home USA residents for just $99. A list of 1,041,977 USA Seniors (45-70 years old) is selling for $325.

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