The fraudsters behind the often laughable Nigerian prince email scams have long since branched out into far more serious and lucrative forms of fraud, including account takeovers, phishing, dating scams, and malware deployment. Combating such a multifarious menace can seem daunting, but in truth it calls for concerted efforts to tackle the problem from many different angles. This post examines the work of a large, private group of volunteers dedicated to doing just that.
Earlier this week, I wrote about an online data theft service that got hacked. That compromise exposed a user base of most young Nigerian men apparently engaged in an array of cybercrime activities — mainly online dating scams and 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.
You’ve seen the emails: They purport to have been sent by some dethroned prince in a faraway land, or from a corrupt bureaucrat in an equally corrupt government. Whatever the ruse, they always claim to need your help in spiriting away millions of dollars. These schemes, known as “419,” “advance fee” and “Nigerian letter” scams, 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 bigger spammers rely on bots that crawl millions of Web sites and “scrape” addresses from pages. Others instead turn to sellers on underground cybercrime forums. But as it turns out, there are still a handful of open-air markets where lists of emails are sold by the millions. If you buy in bulk, some you can expect to pay about a penny per 1,000 addresses.
One long-running, open air bazaar for email addresses is LeadsAndMails.com, which also goes by the name BuyEmails.org. This enterprise is based out of New Delhi, India, and advertises its email lists as “100% optin and 100 percent legal to use.” I can’t vouch for the company’s claims, but one thing seems clear: A good number of its clients are from Nigeria, and many of them are fraudsters.