"Aww babe. I don't have the money yet. I will get it, though. Don't you worry your pretty lil head, hun," the victim wrote back.
The U.S. Secret Service estimates such schemes net hundreds of millions of dollars annually worldwide, with many victims too afraid or embarrassed to report their losses.
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.
"The government is not just sitting on its hands," he said. "It's very important for the international community to know that Nigeria is not glossing over the problem of 419. We are putting together measures that will tackle all forms of online crime and give law enforcement agencies opportunities to combat it."
Asishana Okauru, acting director of financial intelligence for the government's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, said $700 million relating to 419 crime had been seized in the two years since the establishment of the EFCC. There have been 12 convictions in such cases brought during that time, he said. Okauru said he felt this was a good result given the sluggishness of Nigeria's legal system, but critics say the courts are too slow and corrupt.
Nigerian authorities, extremely sensitive about 419 crime, say the scammers are mostly from other countries, and that any Nigerians who participate do so because of high unemployment and, above all, the greed of victims.
When Samuel, at age 15, sat down in a cyber cafe and started drilling away at the keyboard, he had no idea he was being watched by one of Festac's cyber-crime wizards. 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.
"He's fun to be with. When you're around him he makes you feel you have no problems," Samuel said. Shepherd hooked him with the same bait he uses for maghas.
"He said every hour I spent online I could be making good money," Samuel recalled. "He said, 'The houses I own, I got it through all this.' And they're not just ordinary houses. They're big, made of marble. He's got big-screen TVs, a swimming pool inside. He lives like a prince. 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. "But I looked at everything he had, and it got into my head, actually. 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. Shepherd would then take over.
"When you get a reply, it's 70% sure that you'll get the money," Samuel said.
Soon he was working for two bosses, Shepherd and Colosi, both well known to authorities but neither of them bothered in a place where police involvement in the scams is widely alleged.
"Most of the time you look for American contacts because of the value of the dollar, and because the fraudsters here have contacts in America who wrap up the job over there," Samuel said. "For example, the offshore people will go to pose as the Nigerian ambassador to the U.S., or as government officials. They will show some documents: This has presidential backing, this has government backing. And you will be convinced because they will tell you in such a way that you won't be able to say no."
After a scam letter surfaced this summer bearing the forged signature of Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, police raided a market in the Oluwole neighborhood of Lagos, one of six main centers that provide documents used in the 419 scams. They seized thousands of foreign and Nigerian passports, 10,000 blank British Airways tickets, 10,000 U.S. money orders, customs documents, fake university certificates, 500 printing plates and 500 computers. A stolen U.S. passport fetches $2,500 on the black market here.
The scams often involve bogus Internet sites, such as lottery websites, or oil company, bank or government sites. The scammers sometimes use London phone prefixes to make victims think they are calling Britain.
Though the fraud is apparent to many, some people think they have stumbled on a once-in-a-lifetime deal, and scammers can string them along for months with mythical difficulties. Some victims eventually contribute huge sums of money to save the deal when it is suddenly "at risk."