I Lied to My Wife, Flew to Lagos, and Got the Shit Beaten Out of Me Because of a Nigerian Email Scam
By now, everyone is well aware of “419” scams, also known as advance-fee fraud or Nigerian-email fraud. These are cons in which anonymous hustlers pose as corrupt African officials or exiled refugees looking to transfer Scrooge McDuck-ian heaps of cash into foreign accounts. They blanket thousands of email addresses with invitations, and the occasional gullible victim is tricked into forking over private banking information. There are a handful of variations, but most people with eyeballs and keyboards know to hit mark spam whenever they see anything of the sort sliming around their inbox.
In 2003, however, the con was less well known, and a friend of my father’s got seriously duped. When Laurent (his name has been changed at his request), then a 42-year-old salesman at a pharmaceutical company living on Réunion Island (a French territory in the Indian Ocean), received an offer to launder $1 million from a frozen Nigerian bank account into his own, it seemed to solve all of his money problems.
Instead, he wound up battered, bruised, and abandoned in a strange country. I spoke with him recently to find out what the hell happened.
About ten years ago, I was at home playing chess on my computer when an email from someone claiming to be the governor of Lagos, Nigeria, landed in my inbox. The subject line was URGENT, so I read it right away—actually, I read it a few times in a row. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
I don’t recall the exact wording of the email, but the gist of it was that the governor of Lagos West constituency, Bola Tinubu, had hidden around $1 million in a secret bank account to avoid taxes. The money had been stolen from public funds, the email continued, and the Tinubu family couldn’t use it because they were being closely monitored by the government.
They needed a foreigner to come to Lagos, take the money out of the account, and put it into a Swiss bank. That’s where I came in. Supposedly, if I sent $1,300 in cash to a Lagos address, they would get me a room in a luxury hotel, and I could come over and sign some documents that would be prepared by a lawyer, whose fees would run me another $1,300. I’d wind up with 5 percent of that $1 million, which sounded pretty fair to me.
What If Lawyers Wrote Ads?
Lawyers are to creativity what the Gatling gun was to the Spaniards at San Juan Hill. The amount of human ingenuity that has been killed dead, forever, by attorneys throughout history is impossible to calculate. If you asked IBM’s Watson the question, it would probably melt. But the legal crows weren’t always so powerful. Back in the good old Mad Men days of advertising imagination came before fear of litigation, resulting in some of the best campaigns ever produced.
In the spirit of the freethinking tradition that they strangled, let’s imagine what the world would have been like if lawyers had always operated with their heads stuck halfway into the creative department’s office. Some of our favorite taglines would have been gutted, and advertising would be just as castrated as it is now.
[Lawyer-approved ads are on the right.]
All “lawyer” images by Courtney Nicholas
VW Moon Ad
This ad ran in Life magazine on August 8, 1969, just two weeks after the astronauts of Apollo 11returned safely to Earth. The ad agency obviously had it in the can, ready to run, and probably sent film of it and a back-up ad to Life, just in case of disaster. Today, a DDB lawyer would have added an asterisk to the headline, or just shortened it like so, and slid it back under Bill Bernbach’s door.
Look through your Facebook feed and chances are you’ll find a bunch of half-truths, conspiracies, and chain letter–quality hoaxes sharing space with links to reputable news stories. In the past month, I’ve come across links to an article about Chinese people eating soup made of human fetus (a retread of an old racist rumor), a story about how former Liberian president Charles Taylor was a CIA agent (this one was actually reported by the Boston Globe, but later pretty much completely retracted), and a tale of a lesbian ex-Marine waitress who got stiffed on a tip by a homophobic couple (the couple now claims they gave her an ample tip; it’s not clear who is lying or what is going on).
With the exception of that last story, it would have been pretty easy for the sharers to do a quick Google search and determine that the OMG or WTF item they were about to post was outdated or untrue. The whole point of the internet is that you have pretty much the sum total of human knowledge sitting at your fingertips! It takes TWO SECONDS to research the thing you are thinking about sharing and find out that the Daily Currant is a shitty satire site, or that there is no“Abortionplex,” or that those “legal notices” your friends are posting on Facebook don’t do anything—yet even journalists and others who should know better fall for this crap.
—The Internet Is a Giant Lie Machine
An Open Letter to the Most Factually Incorrect Museum in America
Dear Guinness World Record Museum,
I recently visited your Los Angeles location. As was the case with the Hollywood Wax Museum last month, I was not impressed by what I saw.
It’s not just that your museum was generally shitty, boring, and broken-down. There was a much larger problem than that.
As I walked around the museum, I saw several “world records” on display that I knew were incorrect. For instance, the above claims that Titanic holds the record for highest box office gross, and that Lance Armstrong has the most Tour De France titles.
So when I got home, I did some fact-checking. The amount of false information you have on display is truly staggering.
Now, I don’t intend for this to be a definitive list of all of the errors in your museum. Obviously I didn’t have time to check all of the facts. But here are some things you claim are true that are not:
- You claim Michael Jackson’s Bad is the 2nd biggest selling album of all time. It is actually the 10th biggest selling.
- You claim Hilary Duff is the highest paid child TV actor. It is actually Angus T. Jones.
- You claim the longest mustache ever was 10 feet 2 inches long. According to the Guinness Book of Records (your book) it is actually 14 feet long.
- You claim that Dustin Hoffman holds the record for most Best Actor Oscars, with two. Daniel Day Lewis has three.
- You claim that Jurassic Park has the biggest marketing budget of any movie ever. Wrong. Avatar does.
- You claim that George Burns is the oldest man to win an Academy Award, at 79. Christopher Plummer won one when he was 82.
- You claim the Turkish lira is the least valuable currency in the world. This hasn’t been the case since 2005.
- You claim that at age 81, George Cukor is the oldest person to have ever directed a film. Spanish director Manoel de Oliveira is 104 and still working.
Phony Abortion Clinics Are Scaring Women with Lies
Warning: This article contains extreme imagery. All images are from the literature given out at the Aid to Women crisis center.
If you’re pregnant and panicking, there’s a good chance your research will lead you to the website of a crisis pregnancy center. There are about 200 of them across Canada and 4,000 in the United States, and if you believe their advertising, they offer no-judgment counselling services for women who want to know what their options are. Most of the time, they won’t tell you they’re religious organizations hell-bent on convincing you to avoid having an abortion. They’ll have innocuous-sounding names, like “Aid to Women” or “Pregnancy Care Center,” and to the untrained eye, they won’t look like they’re being run by nutjobs who have no problem lying to women.
When I call Aid to Women, a Toronto crisis pregnancy center, to schedule a pregnancy options consultation, I speak with Enza Rattenni, the executive director. She seems friendly enough at first, but it’s not long before what should be a pretty simple phone call starts feeling like an interrogation.
None of what I tell Enza on the phone is true. I’m not six weeks pregnant, I don’t have a boyfriend, and I don’t need options counselling. But I’ve heard a ton of horror stories about crisis pregnancy centers and wanted to find out for myself.
“Where did you get our number?” she asks. My boyfriend. “What’s your boyfriend’s name?” I blurt out the first name that comes to mind. “Oh, OK. Where did he get our number? Just curious because it’s always interesting to hear how people find out about us.” Shit. I’m a terrible liar and haven’t thought this through. I mumble something about finding the center online. Luckily, Enza seems satisfied that I’m not a reporter—just a vulnerable pregnant girl in need of some advice.
She tells me if I’m only able to come in after hours, it’s fine and that she knows how important it is to have these conversations. Sometimes, she tells me, girls walk out of abortion clinics and find out they’ve been LIED to, and she doesn’t want this to happen to me. It makes me wonder how the women who mistakenly stumble into the clinic must feel when they realize they’ve wandered into the hands of an anti-abortion organization.
A People’s History of April Fools’ Day
Above: An engraving by Johann Michael Voltz depicting an April Fools’ Day riot against Jews in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1819.
Herschel Hoff is a professor of history and sociology at the City University of New York who specializes in the history of social movements and political activism. He’s written for Danger Zone, BoWwOw Magazine, A Bunch of Popsicle Sticks Stuck Together with Fudge, Taki’s Magazine, and other online publications. His book, A Riot of One’s Own: Activism, Alienation, and Change in the Internet Agewill be published by BARFY University Press this fall. What follows is an excerpt from that work that we thought it would be appropriate to publish in honor of the “holiday” today.
For centuries, April Fools’ Day—known by a number of names—has been associated with class, race, and social status. Many date the day’s origins to the Persian holiday of Sizdah Be-dar, or “Day of Far Too Many Puddings,” when traditionally the king would give everyone the day off on the condition that they all make and consume pudding until they vomit. This, according to Zoroastrianism, would purge men of all bad thoughts and spirits. Notably, however, the nobility was exempt from actually making any pudding and would often play cruel tricks on their slaves; thus, it was actually a festival that enforced class privilege rather than a day of rest and equality.
Other candidates for the “original” April Fools’ Day include the Roman festival of Hillaria, a weeklong event that encouraged lying and homosexual horseplay, and the Feast of Fools, a holiday celebrated in medieval Europe on which children would be given authority over their elders. This latter occasion gradually evolved into the “Test of Fools,” which mainly consisted of townspeople quizzing each other on the Bible. Those who answered too many questions incorrectly were determined to be Jews and stoned to death. (This tradition was particularly popular in Scotland, where it became “Hunt-the-Gowk Day” [“Gowk” meaning “Jew” in Scots], which was banned in the 1970s.)
The tradition migrated to the Americas with Christopher Columbus, who instituted a “Day of Fools” day at the gold mines he owned in the West Indies. His slaves were only required to mine two pounds of gold each rather than four, and they were “rewarded” with a feast of roast pheasant that night. The real “trick,” however, was that Columbus, his mind by then addled by drinking from lead-lined goblets, forced the slaves to listen to his “light humorous verse” (mainly nonsensical doggerel that detailed Columbus’s fictional, and grotesque, sexual conquests). Those who did not laugh sufficiently, or consume enough pheasant, would have their tongues cut out.
100 Literary Rumors
I don’t know what you’ve heard but I’ve heard a lot of shit. People whispering in hallways and Gmail chatting about all kinds of dark secrets. People up in parties with their coat and hair all looking nice and their mouth just full of you wouldn’t even want to know. I’ll tell you anyway.
Lydia Davis can’t stand the sight of children wearing bike helmets.
Richard Brautigan never crossed state lines except on foot.
Jack London loved braiding men’s hair.
Matthew Rohrer claims to have never been inside or seen an ad for Chili’s.
Jack Kerouac was addicted to licking stamps.
Jhumpa Lahiri has collected more than 200 personally autographed headshots of Al Pacino.
“’Wow, cool sky!’” was the original first sentence of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.
Gertrude Stein was on the payroll of the New York Mets.
Virginia Woolf passed the bar exam in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Maine.
T.C. Boyle ghostwrote the screenplay for Mrs. Doubtfire.
Gordon Lish religiously eats at the Applebee’s on Times Square on the 13th and 18th of every month.
Michiko Kakutani‘s Gmail password is wolfdickfourteen.
Barry Hannah hated the sight of charcoal.
Gary Lutz has beaten Mike Tyson’s Punch Out more than 400 times.
From ages eight to 18, Ann Beattie earnestly believed she was born wrapped in a shower curtain.
Dave Eggers bathes in almond milk every Sunday and video records it.
Thomas Bernhard hated the color blue until the creation of Cookie Monster.
Angela Carter had an erotic fixation on pumping gas.
The wallpaper on Mary Jo Bang’s laptop is a photograph of Rod Stewart holding a baby up to the sun.
George Orwell wore a cock ring 24/7.
Andre Breton lost tens of thousands of dollars due to his inability to remember a flush beats a straight.
Marco Roth believes people who drive white cars are innately selfish by definition.
Samuel Beckett lost every game of chess he ever played by eventually conceding.
Karen Russell owns an original audio recording of Carmelo Anthony reading Gravity’s Rainbow aloud from beginning to end.
Joyelle McSweeney once threw a football so hard she burst all the veins in her right arm and had to have the arm surgically replaced with a fake.
Paul Auster has responded to over 8,000 missed connections ads on craigslist under various pseudonyms.
Though he can see fine, Michael Martone prefers to read in Braille.
Ron Silliman started a Kickstarter campaign under a pseudonym attempting to raise funds to buy the RZA’s childhood home.
Italo Calvino peed sitting down.
Mother Teresa Was a Jerk, and So Were a Bunch of Other Saints
Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, also known as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, also known as Mother Teresa, was a colossal fucking piece of shit. That’s not me talking, it’s not even the notoriously anti-Catholic, anti-TeresaChristopher Hitchens talking—it’s a study conducted by Canadian researchers, who called her “anything but a saint.” They accuse her of running unhygienic, undersupplied clinics even though she had access to millions of dollars of donated funds, claim she thought it was beautiful to see the poor suffer, and say that the “miracles” the Vatican claimed she performed were fake. (You mean, she didn’t cure some lady’s cancer through magic?) According to them, the Catholic Church ignored all of her flaws and canonized her because it desperately wanted the PR boost it would get from turning a celebrity into an saint and that the image of Teresa as a model of selflessness and charity is just that—an image.
But it’s not as if sainthood has historically been reserved for perfect individuals. There are over 10,000 saints recognized by the church—no one seems to know exactly how many—and they got canonized for all kinds of reasons and for all kinds of achievements. Some became saints because they didn’t have sex and then died miserably; some converted entire continents of unbelievers; some saints are entirely fictional; and some saints were just gaping, distended assholes. Like these guys:
[Note: I’ve excluded those saints who were horrible people before they converted to Christianity and went on to do great, heroic things, because if I put them in, we’d be here all day.]
OLAF II OF NORWAY
Olaf II Haraldsson, aka “Olaf the Stout,” was a pretty goddamn effective king of Norway back in the 11th century. The problem is, being an effective king then meant being a brutal murderer and tyrant. During his rule, he banned the worship of pagan gods, seized property from non-Christians, burned down heathen villages, and tortured and killed those who disagreed with him. He lost his kingdom after starting a war with another ruler, got exiled to Russia, and was killed while trying to retake his lands. So he wasn’t a nice guy, but a year later, some people dug up Olaf’s corpse, found that it hadn’t decayed, and were like, “Boom! He’s a saint now!” That’s just how things worked in 11th-century Scandinavia. It was a simpler time.