Shepherd hooked him with the same bait he uses for maghas. He's the biggest guy in this town." A teenager who didn't really know about the scams, Samuel was "a bit confused" when Shepherd offered him 20% of the take.
"He said every hour I spent online I could be making good money," Samuel recalled. "But I looked at everything he had, and it got into my head, actually.
After noting Samuel's speed and skill, the crime boss, nicknamed Shepherd, invited him to his mansion to try extracting e-mail addresses using search engines.
Then, to make Samuel feel special, he took him shopping for designer clothes. When you're around him he makes you feel you have no problems," Samuel said.
Kovacsics says he is awakened several nights a week by Americans pleading for help with an emergency, such as a fiancee (whom they have only met in an online chat room) locked up in a Nigerian jail.
He has to tell them that there is probably no fiancee, no emergency.
The scams offer fabulous riches or the love of your life, but first the magha has to send a series of escalating fees and payments. The scammer replied, "Would you send the money this week so I may buy a ticket? In a series of "mishaps," her wallet is stolen and she is held hostage by the hotel owner until she can come up with hundreds of dollars for the bill. Basil Udotai of the government's Nigerian Cybercrime Working Group said 419 fraud represents a tiny portion of Nigerian computer crime, but is taken seriously by authorities because of the damage it does to the country's reputation.
In a dating scam, for instance, the fraudsters send pictures taken from modeling websites. She needs a new airline ticket, has to bribe churlish customs officials and gets caught. "The government is not just sitting on its hands," he said.
"He said, 'The houses I own, I got it through all this.' And they're not just ordinary houses. The money he had, the cars." Eager to impress his new boss, Samuel worked for six-hour stretches extracting e-mail addresses and sending off letters that had been composed by a college graduate also working for Shepherd.
He sent 500 e-mails a day and usually received about seven replies. "When you get a reply, it's 70% sure that you'll get the money," Samuel said.
He thinks disclosure of his surname could endanger his safety.