You’ve known him slightly for years. He’s a professional musician and poet, a spectacularly talented, hard-working Philadelphia-based instrumentalist and lyricist who’s played and recorded internationally with some leading R&B groups as well as solo gigs locally. You get periodic notices from his e-mail list about his concerts and public appearances. Let’s call him “Jesse Colver,” not his real name. So when you receive this urgent e-mail communiqu? recently, you feel rather guilty not responding with a chunk of cash, especially in the spirit of the holiday season.

Hi, How are you today? I am sorry I didn’t inform you about my traveling to Africa for a program called Empowering Youth to Fight Racism, HIV/AIDS, Poverty and Lack of Education. The program is taking place in three major countries in Africa, which are Ghana, South Africa and Nigeria.

It as been a very sad moment for me, the present condition that I found myself is very hard for me to explain, I am really stranded in Nigeria because I forgot my little bag in the taxi where my money, passport, documents and other valuable things were kept on my way to the hotel am staying, I am facing a hard time here because I have no money on me. I am now owning a hotel bill of $750, and they wanted me to pay the bill soon else they will have to seize my bag and hand me over to the Hotel Management.

I need this help from you urgently to help me back home, I need you to help me with the hotel bill and I will also need $1,000 to feed and help myself back home, kindly help me with a sum of $1,750 to sort out my problems here? I need this help so much and on time because i am in a terrible and tight situation here, I don’t even have money to feed myself for a day which means i had been starving so please understand how urgent i needed your help.

I am sending you this e-mail from the city of Lagos, Nigeria, and I only have 40 min, I will appreciate what so ever you can afford to send me for now and I promise to pay back your money as soon as i return home, you need to transfer the money through Western Union because that is the only way i can receive it here, please email me back so that i can email you one of the Hotel Management name that you will send the western union to.

With Regards, “Jesse”

Instead of emptying your wallet, you e-mail his brother-in-law in L.A., an old friend, who immediately responds: “Nigerian scam. They were able to get [his] entire address book. And what else???”

You are stunned at the narrative sophistication of these miscreants, far surpassing the usual clunky rhetoric of the so-called “419 Scam.” “First of all,” his brother-in-law adds, “Nigerian scams are notorious and legion. Second of all, [“Jesse”] is in Philly!”

After you express your surprise “Jesse” didn’t communicate with the recipients of this fraudulent e-mail, his brother-in-law forwards you this e-missive from “Jesse”:

Subject: Re: HOTMAIL HACKERS – Please spread this information

There are quite a few names in my hotmail account that aren’t in my yahoo. I’m trying to spread the word the best I can. “Jesse Culver”

My HOTMAIL account has been hacked. I can’t even get into it my own account to notify people, so I appreciate you sharing this information with anyone who may be concerned. Some one/thing is pretending to be me – stranded in Nigeria – and asking for loans of money to get home.


I am not in Nigeria, have never been, and though I’d love to possibly travel there someday. Please understand this is a scam. It has been reported to HOTMAIL and I am waiting for them to help resolve the situation. Meanwhile I am hopeful to pursue and possibly prosecute the perpetrator(s).


If anyone doubts this is the “real” me, feel free to respond with a personal question that only I can answer.

I know this all sounds strange, but it’s what I am forced to do in this age of cyber-crime.

Take care. – “Jesse”

Later on, you contact a security specialist, who advises: “Best he changes his e-mail service ASAP. Best you delete this and as many messages as you can from this person. There may be a ‘botnet’ imbedded in one of the e-mails your friend sent.”

Now, you don’t feel so guilty about not sending “Jesse” any money. But still. Nevertheless, you protect his already-stolen identity. Perhaps that’s the least you can do.

Related special offers:

“Identity Theft”

“Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture that’s Gone Stark Raving Mad”

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