Advance Fee Fraud Letters as Machiavellian/Narcissistic Narratives
Université de Sherbrooke, Canada
The purpose of this
paper is to reveal how advanced fee fraud letters include narratives
that unveil a Machiavellian/narcissistic perspective. The paper
analyses a sample of one hundred advanced fee fraud letters (or
« Nigerian scams »), classified in six (6) categories: lottery scams,
humanitarian gifts, abandoned money, business opportunities, deceased
estate/last will, gold bars and diamonds. It presents scams as
narratives that give us various perceptions about the present era. The
paper gives details about some usual technical defects of advanced fee
fraud letters. It draws a set of moral principles and values that are
explicitly declared by fraudsters. Advanced fee fraud letters are
reflecting a Machiavellian/narcissistic approach of human behavior and
morality. They are not only attempts to steal victim’s money, they are
manifesting that fraudsters are using moral principles and values in
order to increase their power over their victims.
Advance fee fraud,
moral principles, Machiavelli, narcissism.
Prasad, Kathawala, Bocker and Sprague
(1991) said that the number of computer crimes was on the rise and
that there was a spreading variety of sophisticated misdeeds: viruses;
physical damage or destruction (sabotage); financial deception, fraud
and theft; intellectual property fraud and theft, and many other types
of misuse, such as blackmail and extortion, theft of computer time, or
manipulation of stock prices. Morris-Cotterill (1999, p. 213, 219)
suggested that Internet does not create any new evil. Internet would
only be a medium that could unveil already unacceptable behaviors in a
different way. At least, if we consider the phenomenon of advance free
fraud (or "Nigerian letters"), we actually know that at the real
beginning, those letters were sent by regular mail or by fax. So,
Internet has only facilitated the commission of such frauds. According
to Guichard and Pastré (2005, p. 117-120), Internet is considered by
criminal networks as an Eldorado, due to the quasi absence of the rule
of law. Hackers are often operating in countries where there is no
rule of law. But it is not always the case. Advance fee frauds are
committed everywhere in the world, in developing and developed
countries as well. Broadhurst (2006, p. 415-417) said that the
transnational nature of cyber-crime mirrors globalization processes.
Financial crimes have international ramifications. Either they need
foreign collaborators, or they affect victims throughout the entire
world. Advance fee fraud is more and more a transnational phenomenon.
It implies a group of fraudsters who live and operate in various
countries. For instance, the sender of the letter (Italy), the
intermediary for further communication (Hong Kong), and the recipient
(who actually receives the money: Netherlands) could live in three
Adomi and Igun (2008) well described
the reasons why criminals are using cyberspace to perpetrate their
acts in Nigeria. Indeed, most of those motives are still true in other
(1) the easy access to the internet; (2) the anonymity offered by
internet; (3) the ability of cyber criminals to get e-mail addresses
of individuals from various sources; (4) the belief that breaking the
law online is less serious than breaking the law in the physical
space; (5) the harsh economic conditions of the people could propel
them to commit cyber crimes; (6) the inadequate law enforcement, or
the lack of cyber laws (p. 718-719).
Those explanations of cyber-crime are
not moral justifications of the phenomenon. An explanation is nothing
but a basic link between a given behavior and its conditioning
factors. It can never be used to morally justify any kind of conduct.
But organizations have their own
responsibility in the way cyber-crimes are occurring in the
organizational setting. As said Overhill (2003, p. 166), the degree to
which an organization chooses to react to a presumed cyber-intrusion
must be determined by the organization’s policies and priorities on
business continuity balanced against organizational policies and
priorities on information security.
According to Broadhurst (2006, p.
412-414), we cannot exert an effective control of cyber-crime without
a large cooperation between public and private security agencies - and
even between international law enforcement agencies (Tan, 2002, p.
351). What is crucial is the role of communications and IT industries
in designing products that could resist to criminal attacks and that
could facilitate detection processes. Computer forensics is then a
growing field of research and investigation. According to Bassett,
Bass and O’Brien (2006, p. 30), specialists are required because of
the growing phenomenon of cyber-crime. However, Tan (2002, p. 352)
believed that what is more important is consumer education. We should
certainly affirm that both kinds of intervention are socially
necessary to combat cyber-crime. If people would be more informed
about advance fee frauds, they would not become victims of scammers.
And if they would no longer be victims available on the net, the crime
itself would disappear.
According to Malgwi (2004, p. 147),
advance fee fraud is by far the most prevalent crime in Nigeria. This
kind of fraud is covered by section 419 of the Nigerian Penal Law (419
scams). Ahmed and Oppenheim (2006, p. 160, 171) studied spam mail and
concluded that it is often impossible to identify the country where
spam originated. They included in the same category (financial spam)
mortgage and credit card offers as well as lottery scams and Nigerian
letters. Mortgage and credit cards offers could be quite reliable,
while lottery scams and Nigerian letters are fraudulent messages. The
authors observed that financial spam was the category in which spam
was sent most regularly. However, we are not able to know the
proportion of lottery scams and Nigerian letters within the financial
scam category. Glickman (2009, p. 463) suggested that advanced fee
fraud letters reflected a basic cultural and social disfunctionality
and a political and cultural success syndrome implying corruption and
In this paper, I will deal with
advanced fee fraud letters as narratives. I would like to unveil the
Machiavellian/narcissistic perspective scammers seem to adopt.
Adogame (2009, p. 561) said that many
advanced fee fraud letters (those written in English) are
characterized by grammatical errors, so that it seem that such
messages were probably hurriedly drafted (probably in internet cafés).
Zook (2007, p. 68) said that the geographic 419 spam operations are
continuously changing and that the geographical strategy generally
implies that victims are located in a given country, spammers in
another, and finally the money is collected in a third country. 419
scammers come from all over the world. Ultrascan (2008, p. 14)
presented the top 10 active resident scammers (in 2007): United States
(6200: 1st); Canada (3310: 3rd); United Kingdom (2520: 5th). The top
10 active resident scammers list includes North-American countries
(Canada, USA), European countries (Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain,
and United Kingdom), African countries (Ghana, South Africa) and only
one Asian country (China). The victims of advanced fee fraud letters
are businesses and individuals as well. The top 10 losses suffered (in
2007) by companies and persons (in millions US) included United States
(830; 1st), United Kingdom (580; 2nd), France (235; 6th),
and Canada (158; 10th). The top 10 losses list was constituted by
North-American countries (Canada, USA), European countries (France,
Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom) and Asian countries (Australia,
There are seven general characteristics
of advance fee fraud scams: (1) the authoritative position: according
to Chang (2008, p. 76), many fraudsters take the identity of an
expert, or an advisorial or authoritative position. In that way, they
wish that victims will focus their attention on the proposal itself
rather than question its validity; (2) the mix of truths and lies:
sometimes, fraudsters present true facts (related to existing
organizations or to historical facts), but they mix them with
fraudulent assertions; (3) the motive for writing to the victim:
Chang (2008, p. 77) believed that the more successful fraudulent
messages are those in which they present a compelling reason; (4) the
need for victims to react very quickly: we could often observe that
those "proposals" are presented as "a rare or one-off opportunity that
highlights its scarcity", observed Chang (2008, p. 78); (5) the
"confidential" nature of the message: sometimes, messages are said to
be "very secret and confidential". It is particularly the case when
the fraudster takes the identity of a high government official,
assumed Viosca, Bergiel and Balsmeier (2004, p. 12); (6) the promise
of large sums of money for the victim: Salu (2004, p. 161) said that
fraudsters usually promise to give "between 30% and 50% of the money
to be transferred"; (7) the international ramification of fraudsters:
according to Akinladejo (2007, p. 323), advance fee frauds have
international ramifications, with victims and fraudsters from all over
the world. Fraudsters operate in complicated cell structures and have
a lot of important connections in the world’s financial system.
Advance fee fraud has been globalized. It actually uses the means of
globalization in order to extend its influence.
Scams are Narratives
The advanced fee fraud letters I have
analyzed have been sent between January 2005 and January 2010, either
to me, or to persons who have put such letters on websites dealing
with Nigerian letters.
I would classify them in six categories: (a) Business opportunity (N=
29): without details (9); about business funds (9); about Government
funds (11); (b) abandoned money (N=26); (c) deceased estate/last will
(N=21); (d) humanitarian gifts (N=9); (e) lottery (N=13); (f) gold
bars and diamonds (N=2). I will further analyze the contents and
structure of advance fee fraud letters as narratives.
Contents of the Narratives
As to lottery scams, the average amount
is 1,083,000$, while the median is 850,000 $. Most of the narratives
(7/13) gave the Batch/ticket numbers of the winner. In many cases
(5/13), selection processes were realized through e-mail addresses.
There are two well-known companies that were mentioned in given
narratives: Microsoft (twice) and Yahoo (once). One of the characters
of the story has a well-known family name: Van Gogh!
As to humanitarian gifts, the average
amount was 8 million $ (median: 7.2 million $); the proportion that
would be given to the victim is 15% (average and median). Narratives
referred to different countries, such as Russia, Iran, Israel, Kuwait,
and Nigeria. But for the humanitarian gifts themselves, they would
have to be given to Bulgaria, Cameroun, Liberia, Mozambique, Algeria
and Malaysia. Only one well-known company was mentioned:
Chevron-Texaco. Only one former politician was included in a given
story: Corazon Aquino, former President of the Philippines. The owner
of the Bank Hapoalim (Israel), Mrs Shari Arison, was also included in
a scam dealing with humanitarian gifts.
As to abandoned money, the average
amount is 18 million $, while the median is 15 million $. The
proportion that would be given to the victim is between 25% (median)
and 39% (average). Nigeria is very often included in such narratives
(9/25). Among the other countries mentioned, there are Scotland,
Egypt, Benin, Burkina Faso, Jamaica, South Korea, Ivory Coast,
Indonesia and Togo. Two well-known politicians were included in some
narratives: Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein. Moreover, there are two
major companies scammers were referring to: Citibank and
Other scams are focusing on business
opportunities. The average amount is 24.3 million $, while the median
is 21 million $. The proportion of the money that could be given to
the victim is between 25% (median) and 28% (average). A lot of African
countries are mentioned in those narratives, including Nigeria, Kenya,
South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Liberia. The name of
four well-known people is included in given narratives: Robert Mugabe
(former President of Zimbabwe), Mwai Kikaki (President of Kenya),
Charles Taylor (former President of Liberia), Mikhail Khodorkovsky
(former CEO of Ioukos, a large Russian oil company) and Farida Waziri
(Head, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission of Nigeria). One
well-known company is included in such scams: Nescafé.
Finally, as to deceased estate/last
will, the average amount is 34.4 million $, while the median is 22.5
million $. The proportion that would be allocated to the victim is
between 19% (average) and 20% (median). Two countries were mentioned
more than three times: Ivory Coast and Nigeria. Two others were
mentioned twice: Sierre Leone and Irak. The name of two well-known
politicians was included in some narratives: Jose Eduardo dos Santos
(President of Angola) and Charles Taylor (former President of
Liberia). A scam focusing on deceased estate was referring to « Chief
Vincent Williams, Chairman and CEO of the Sierra Leone national Gold
and Mining Corporation ». In advanced fee fraud letters dealing with
deceased estate, fraudsters refer sometimes to well-known national and
international organizations, such as the Central Bank of Thailand and
the International Monetary Fund.
The Structure of the Narratives
Nigerian scams (or « advance fee fraud
letters ») are narratives that give us various perceptions about the
present era. Their structure often reveals a will to ground the fraud
on historical roots. Four aspects of scams should then be highlighted.
Scams could be perceived as « paper beings » (Roland Barthes, 1994).
The narrator of the narrative (« who speaks ») is not identical to the
person « who writes » the narrative. The author of the narrative
(fraudster) cannot be confused with the narrator of the narrative. In
other words, the narrator is himself (herself) a character within the
narrative. The narrator is part of the imaginary world that is created
by the narrative. Here are the four basic components of advance fee
fraud letters as narratives.
Firstly, the "symbolic actor" (the
sender). The fraudster is creating a new self: either a person whose
tragic life could give rise to the victim’s compassion (the figure of
sadness), or a person whose social status could make the victim more
open to the offer (the figure of social status), or even someone who
is well-known on the national or international scene (the figure of
glamour). Most of the time, the choice of tragic events or individual
names has historical roots. Such events or names are thus integral
parts of the history of a given society. Its helps to make the victim
more comfortable with the offer. Even the countries mentioned in the
scams are those that are either related to recent important events or
strong symbols of poverty (so that potential victims could feel
compassion for these people). On the 28 countries mentioned in the
sample, the focus was on Africa, with a much lesser emphasis on Middle
East and Southeast Asia. Countries from Eastern Europe, Western Europe
and the Caribbean were rarely mentioned in the sample.
Secondly, the argument for writing to
the victim. That’s the weakest aspect of the scam. Most of the time,
the arguments put by fraudsters are unreasonable. Three different
paths are used by fraudsters in order to make the victim more
comfortable with the offer: (a) the presence of a well-known
individual, company, national or international organization that has a
very good name (the "white knight") ; (b) the presence of individuals
whose corrupt past activities could explain the money involved in the
scam (the "ugly actor"); (c) the presence of an unknown actor, someone
who is probably unknown by the victim (the "unknown actor"). For
instance, the Minister of Finance of Nigeria. In many cases, the names
are not the right ones.
Thirdly, the offer itself. It could
largely vary from scam to scam: business opportunity, deceased
estate/last will, lottery, abandoned money. The structure of the offer
will vary according to the type of scams.
Fourthly, the trap. Here, some
fraudsters are more aggressive than others. Some ask for the victim’s
bank account numbers, while others are more subtle and refer to the
driver’s license numbers. Indeed, the various kinds of scammers do not
have the same strategy. Some are searching for results in the very
short term, while others try to "get the fish" in the long-run.
The potential victim should take
attention to some usual technical defects of advanced fee fraud
letters: (1) typographical and grammatical errors ; (2) the various
e-mail addresses: for instance, a scam talked about a lottery which is
held in the Netherlands, while the e-mail address of the sender (Mrs.
Einke De Vries) referred to Argentina. Another scam for a lottery that
is held in the Netherlands includes an e-mail address coming for a
drugstore which is located somewhere in Italy. A business opportunity
scam could refer to the "Halifax Bank of Scotland" (with a mail
address in UK), while the victim should respond through an e-mail
address that is located in Hong Kong; (3) the unreasonable elements of
the story: if you do not have bought a lottery ticket, you cannot be a
winner; (4) the phone numbers given in some scams often did not refer
to the same country than the country declared by the fraudster; (5) in
some scams, the last name of the sender is put before the first name
(as it is often the case in Asian countries), while the sender has a
common English name.
Those four basic characteristics of
advance fee fraud letters unveil the structure of fraudsters’
narratives. They also reveal to what extent fraudsters use their
imagination in order to set up the best conditions to get
« collaborative victims ». Advance fee fraud letters are
communicational activities that distort reality and history. The
authors of the narratives are lying and manipulating their victims.
Advance fee fraud letters are basically narratives that are full of
« bad faith » (Sartre, 1943), insofar as the authors of the narratives
are using a false identity in order to get their victims’ money.
Approach of Advanced Fee Fraud Letters
Nigerian scams (or « advance fee fraud
letters ») usually express a deep concern for good human relations and
often reveal "moral principles and values" which are declared by the
sender (the fraudster). Such principles and values tend to be socially
acceptable. Ricoeur (1983, p. 125) said that imitating action means
fore-understanding human action and its symbols and temporality. In
any kind of narratives, human action is imitated and reproduced within
the story itself. But in doing so, said Ricoeur (1983), we are
projecting a fore-understanding (fore-critical understanding) of human
action. Indeed, advance fee frauds imply some narratives that imitate
human (historical) actions, while conveying a fore-understanding of
human action and its contemporaneous symbols. This (uncritical)
fore-understanding of human action and of its symbols (sometimes drawn
from historical events) is constituted by some "moral principles and
values". Such principles and values are used in order to get the
Here are some good examples of such
principles dealing with good human relations or moral issues:
Good Human Relations
Three elements are often integrated in
advance fee fraud letters. Their aim is to facilitate good human
relations with the potential victims: (1) the prestige of the sender :
"Honourable Minister of Finance, Federal Republic of Nigeria"; "Dr.";
"Rev."; "Engineer", "Diplomatic General Officer". Very often,
fraudsters try to make a powerful impression on the victim’s
imagination: "I am Prince Fayad W. Bolkiah, the eldest son of Prince
Jefri Bolkiah, former Finance Minister of Brunei, the tiny oil rich
sultanate on the northern coast of the island of Borneo in eastern
Asia. I will save your time by not amplifying my extended royal family
history, which has already been disseminated by the international
media during the controversial dispute that erupted between my father
and his step brother, the sultan of Brunei, Sheik Muda Hassanl Bolkiah";
(2) an appeal to good human relations, as based on mutual trust:
"Though I have not met with you, I believe one has to risk confidence
to someone to succeed sometimes in life"; (3) an appeal to the
prestige of the victim: "I got your contact information from a
business directory in Johannesburg Chambers of Commerce and
Industry". The dialectics between the sender’s renowned personality
aspect and the victim’s prestige is used to establish good human
relations with the potential victims. This stage is particularly
important. It must be successful if the fraudster wants to go ahead
with the next steps of his fraud stratagem.
Moral Principles and Values
The next four elements are emphasizing
the necessity to get rid of some objections the potential victims
could have in mind : (1) a strong criticism of Government: "I
personally don’t belong to such school of thought that proposes that
such fortune be given to the government because it is cheating and is
possible that the top government officials for their own selfish
interest could divert the fortune"; (2) the fear to be under
police supervision: The following letter was supposedly written by Mr.
Robert S. Mueller, FBI Director: "This is officially inform you
that it has come to our notice and we have thoroughly investigated by
the help of our Intelligence Monitoring Network System that you are
having a Legal Transaction with one Rev. John Irwin of the Federal
Ministry of Finance, Nigeria. During our Investigation, it came to our
notice that the reason why you have not received your payment is
because you have not fulfill your Financial Obligation giving to you
in respect of your Contract /Inheritance Payment"; (3) an appeal
to the victim’s compassion : "Mr. Haffez Al Sadique died as a
result of torture in the hand of Saddam Hussein during one of his
trips in his country Irak"; "The lives and future of my family depends
on this fund as such. I will be grateful if you can assist us”; "I
requested to my boss for an increase in salary. He was so upset that
he nearly sacked me despite my ten years of dedicated service.
However, he succeeded in giving me an indefinite suspension. Within my
moments of suspension, I was so desesperate…”; "I am Mrs Suha
Arafat, the wife of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader who died
recently in Paris. Since his death and even prior to the announcement,
I have been thrown into a state of antagonism, confusion, humiliation,
frustration and hopelessness by the present leadership of the
Palestinian Liberation Organization and the new Prime Minister. I have
even been subjected to physical and psychological torture”; "I’m in a
hospital in Russia where I have been undergoing treatment for
esophageal cancer. I have since lost my ability to talk and my doctors
have told me that I have only a few weeks to live. It is my last wish
to see this money distributed to charity organizations and NGO
anywhere in the World in helping human race". In another scam, the
fraudster seem to be orphan (young adult) and would like to become the
"new daughter" of the victim (this scam was also sent to a Canadian
website called "Wish Canada Internship Working Holidays Recruitment");
(4) an appeal to the victim’s religious beliefs: In that case,
advanced fee fraud letters are conveying symbolic thought, insofar as
they are characterized by a twofold intentionality, as said Ricoeur
(1962, p. 194): both the literal intentionality (implying the triumph
of conventional truth over the natural sign itself) and a spiritual
intentionality aiming at a given human situation in face of the
sacredness. Gadamer (1976) said that a symbol is making present what
is neither self-evident, nor actualized. Symbols replace reality that
could not be directly apprehended. However, added Gadamer (1976),
symbols do not explain the basic nature of their objects. That’s why
we must know them and try to deepen our understanding of the reality
they are representing. The religious terms used in advanced fee fraud
letters generally come from monotheistic religions (Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam). Look at this example drawn from a scam: "My
Dear Brother in Islam….Thanks for your cooperation, May Almighty Allah
Guide us all Alright". The following example is much more explicit
about the theological basis of the fraudster’ intent and the extent to
which a symbolic thought is involved in the core of the message:
"It is by the grace of God that I
received Christ, having known the truth; I had no choice than to do
what is lawful and just in the sight of God for eternal life and in
the sight of man for witness of God & His Mercies and glory upon my
life… I want a person that is God-fearing who will use this money to
fund churches, orphanages and widows propagating the word of God and
to ensure that the house of God is maintained. The Bible made us to
understand that blessed is the hand that giveth. I took this decision
because I don’t have any child that will inherit this money and my
husband’s relatives are not Christians and I don’t want my husband’s
hard earned money to be misused by unbelievers. I don’t want a
situation where this money will be used in an ungodly manner. Hence
the reason for taking this bold decision. I am not afraid of death
since I know where I am going to. I know that I am going to be in the
blossom of the Lord. Exodus 14, vs 14 says that the Lord will fight
my case and I shall hold my peace".
The moral principles and values we
could find out in advance fee fraud letters are presented in order to
favour an "ethical climate of mutual understanding" between the sender
(fraudster) and the potential victims. The creation of such an ethical
climate of free communication between the sender and the potential
victims is a decisive factor. Any advance fee fraud letter will be
useless if it cannot elaborate a narrative that does not convey or
artificially create such an ethical climate of understanding and
The Machiavellian contents
Nigerian scams (or « advance fee fraud
letters ») include messages that are basically false and deceptive.
They manifest a Machiavellian approach of the victim: using everything
that could help to get the victim’s money. The end justifies the
means, said Machiavelli. Of course, Machiavelli’s philosophy was
elaborated in order to define the lessons any Sovereign should remind
if he wants to safeguard his powerful influence on the people. A
scammer cannot be considered as "Sovereign". However, we suggest that
scammer have integrated Machiavellian worldview. Indeed, the basic
Machiavellian principle ("the end justifies the means") implies the
following specific components : (1) using moral principles for
safeguarding one’s power: Machiavelli (1980, p. 155-192) believed that
a sovereign could use moral principles or put an emphasis on good
human relations with his subjects (citizens) in order to safeguard his
power over them. Scammers are embracing the same philosophy. That’s
why we find out "moral principles and values" in their scams. Scammers
use moral principles and values in order to manipulate and deceive
their victims. Such principles and values are either culturally
induced, or socially grounded, or even religiously defined. Morality
is then only a tool to maximize their profit. Fraudsters are using
moral principles and values in order to increase their power over
their victims. In that way, we could say that scammers are enhancing a
Machiavellian way of life. Using moral principles and values as a tool
of deception is indeed revealing how scammers seem to adopt a
Machiavellian worldview. Machiavelli said that in some situations,
conforming ourselves to virtues would be disastrous, while acting in
according with some vices will provide us security and wellbeing
(1980, p. 156). He thus adopted both a consequentialist approach and a
relativistic perspective. For instance, the Sovereign should use his
own faith in order to get the admiration of the people, said
Machiavelli. In other situations, he should not use prayers or any
religious belief because it would not be productive to do so.
Machiavelli was thus a consequentialistic philosopher, although
(unlike other consequentialist ethical theories) the principle of
moral action is itself dependent on circumstances (a pure ethical
relativism); (2) not being hatred by people: according to Machiavelli,
the Sovereign should avoid to be hatred. Although he could not be
admired and loved by most of the people, what is most important is not
to be the object of their hatred.
A Sovereign should never be perceived
by his people as someone who is disgusting or someone who could never
be loved by anyone (1980, p. 162-163, 172). Scammers tend to attract
victim’s compassion. In that way, they search for a positive
perception of what they seem to be. Moreover, Machiavelli insisted on
the fact that the Sovereign should seem to have some qualities,
whether it is his reliability, his humanitarian feelings, his firm
respect of the rule of law, his religious beliefs (1980, p. 166).
That’s precisely the kind of messages that scammers would like to
convey in their Nigerian letters; (3) the primacy of
"what-seems-to-be”: Machiavelli believed that in most of the cases,
human judgment is rooted in the appearance (what someone seems to be
rather than what he (she) is (Machiavelli, 1980, p. 167). Scammers are
focusing their fraud stratagem on the principle of appearance; (4) the
importance of safeguarding secrecy: according to Machiavelli, the
Sovereign is continuously acting in secret. This is precisely the way
scammers are undertaking their criminal actions. Those four
Machiavellian principles are not exhaustive. Indeed, Machiavelli’s
political philosophy implies many other important aspects. But when we
are looking at the attitude of scammers as it is translated in their
advance fee fraud letters, it is striking to observe that they seem to
adopt a Machiavellian worldview.
The Psychoanalytic Interpretation:
In his Metamorphosis, Ovid (43
B.C- 17) describes the story of Narcissus. Ovid has found out the main
psychological laws behind narcissistic pathological personality.
Firstly, Ovid made clear that Narcissus will live a long life "if he
does not discover himself". It means that when Narcissus will be aware
of his distorted perception of his self, he will tend to destroy it,
and thus to adopt self-destructive behaviors. Secondly, when Narcissus
saw his face in the water, what he loved was a bodiless dream. Seeing
the beauty of his face, Narcissus felt a strong desire for himself.
Thirdly, Narcissus put his arms in the water, but was unable to seize
what he saw. It means that he has no direct access to his ultimate
beauty. Narcissus did not understand that what he saw is nothing but
the shadow of reflected form. Narcissus believed he is the reflected
form itself. He was not deceived by his own image. Fourthly, Narcissus
felt in love with himself. He cannot tolerate not to see his ultimate
beauty. He always wanted to see the beauty of his face. His self-image
then became his ultimate concern.
According to Lasch (1981, p. 69, 77),
narcissism seems to be the best way to make our anxieties less
suffering. The modern life implies such a new appearance of
narcissism. It has very deep implications. As said Lasch, in spite of
his deep pain, Narcissus owns many traits that could insure his
success within bureaucratic institutions: manipulating personal
relationships, discouraging the development of deep personal
connections between people, providing an inner feeling of security and
self-esteem. Narcissism is not purely an absolute self-love. It is
rather the impossibility for oneself to get in touch with his or her
own self. It seems paradoxical that the narcissistic personality has
an idealized view of his (her) self, while being unable to get in
touch with his (her) true self. But what is idealized is only part of
the whole self: it is considered as if it was the whole self. The
reality is quite different. The other components of the self are so
disgusting for the narcissistic personality that the person cannot
tolerate to be confronted to them. The feeling of inferiority is so
strong that narcissistic personalities develop an idealized view of
their self in order to repress the awareness of their real
Kernberg (1979, p. 187) said that
narcissistic personalities are focusing on greed, exploitativeness and
the desperate need to any kind of social and emotional involvement.
Kernberg (1980, p. 25) gave a more precise list of psychological
components of a narcissistic personality: (1) a feeling of greatness;
(2) an extreme egocentrism (an integrated grandiose self); (3) an
absence of consideration or empathy for others’ situation; (4) a
strong feeling of envy towards those who have things that the
narcissistic person does not own, or just because others seem to be
happy in their daily life; (5) the incapacity to understand others’
complex emotions; (6) the capacity of not taking others’ feeling of
sadness and mourning into account; (7) sometimes, the strong and
conscious feeling of insecurity and inferiority which could alternate
with feelings of greatness and fantasies of omnipotence. Freud (1986,
p. 42) said that one part of self-regard is the residue of infantile
(normal) narcissism, while another part arises out of the omnipotence
which is corroborated by the fulfillment of the ego ideal.
As said Adler (2000), a feeling of
superiority is indeed reflecting deep feeling of inferiority. The only
way to avoid despair (about himself or herself) is to have an
idealized (reductionist) view on his (her) self. The only way
narcissistic personalities could tolerate the existence of their self
is to have an idealized form of self. Such an attitude could have very
disastrous consequences. According to Adler (2000, p. 69), the desire
for superiority goes hand in hand with a feeling of inferiority. Our
existential struggles mirror such a desire for superiority. However,
when there is a feeling of self-discrediting, such existential
struggles are blocked. There is a "complex of inferiority" when the
feeling of inferiority is manifesting permanent effects in one’s life
(Adler, 1950, p. 85). Adler (1964) explained that narcissism occurs
when a person has excluded social relationships or when he has never
focused on them. In that situation, nothing is left for experience,
except the way the person is experiencing his own personality. The
narcissistic personality is solving his life problems focusing on his
personal interests. Such permanent exclusion of others implies a deep
lack of social interests. Adler added that narcissism implies of
feeling of weakness which originated from a feeling of inferiority.
Aubert (2009, p. 168) said that this
feeling of inferiority induces self-destructive behaviors. Indeed,
narcissistic personalities could find extremely difficult to have
relationships with others. If their friend, lover or colleague
idealizes their self, there will be no problem. However, when
narcissistic personalities face others’ different views or opinions,
they will feel them as threatening their own inner security. When they
do not share the same views or opinions, narcissistic personalities
will perceive others’ views or opinions as a direct attack to their
self. Others will become enemies to destroy in order to safeguard the
integrity of their idealized self. Because narcissistic personalities
often exert some kind of power (formal or implicit) within a given
organization, they will use any means to get rid of such enemies. They
will try to annihilate those who have threatened their inner security.
And unfortunately, because of their talent to manipulate people, they
will often reach their destructive and cruel purpose.
But others can never deepen their
relationships with narcissistic personalities. If they try to do it,
they will face an iron wall. Narcissistic personalities confuse
admiration with love. But they are unable to face any kind of
relationships that could imply any other attitude than admiration of
their self. Narcissistic personalities will try to integrate good
values or qualities they have observed in others’ attitude. They are
not full of jealousy. Rather, insofar as they have an idealized view
of their self, they simply cannot tolerate that others have some good
values or qualities they would not own. But when they are integrating
others’ qualities or values within their self, they are indeed using
them in order to improve the way they exert power over others.
Narcissistic personalities are power-focused personalities. Power
seems to give them concrete evidence that their idealized self is
their real self. This is precisely the connection point with
Machiavellian thought. Lasch (1981, p. 78) said that Narcissus will
conform himself (herself) to social norms since he (she) fears to be
punished in case of transgression. But he (she) sees himself (herself)
as being basically dishonest. Narcissistic personalities believe that
if others are honest, it is only because of external pressures,
particularly the fear to be punished. If such fear would disappear, we
could observe the real (dishonest) personality of people. In other
words, narcissistic personalities seem not to be concerned with
others’ situation. They only focus their attention on their personal
concerns, their self (their indifference towards others, even towards
those who love them), so that they fall in a deep state of existential
loneliness. Even those who love them are used as means to improve the
idealized view of their self. Rather than improving or enhancing their
self, such an attitude tends to devaluate it. Narcissistic
personalities tend to destroy the self they have idealized. Even if
they use cruelty, manipulation and power relationships in their daily
life, they will not be able to make disappear their deep feeling of
inferiority. Their focus on the power they could exert over others is
a way to maintain an illusion about their real self. Narcissistic
personalities cannot tolerate to be united with another than the I.
The I is their unique reality. Any other reality must be destroyed in
order to make possible for the I to have permanent reign, or to remain
an eternal reality.
The whole structure of advance fee
fraud letters generally implies that the sender’s false ego is deified
or considered as an absolute reality, or equivalent to historical
figures of the twentieth century. Narcissistic aspects of such letters
could be found out in the following components: (1) the prestige of
the sender: his job position, or any other family or business life
connections; (2) the wonderful or unusual character of the events in
which the sender was involved: such events, as they are explained in
details, aim to emphasize the influential aspect of sender’s
personality; (3) the great soul of the sender: the whole narrative
usually put the emphasis on the sender’s generosity, so that the
receiver should understand that the sender has a really great soul.
That’s another way to put light on the sender’s grandiose soul. Every
component of the advanced fee fraud letter is making clear that the
sender’s ego is extraordinary, so that the receiver will feel blessed
to have received that letter. Of course, we cannot know if actually
those senders have narcissistic personalities. We can only observe
that the way they have built their letters is reflecting a clear focus
on their grandiose self. It could only be a technical characteristic
of such letters. But it could also reveal more psychological traits of
the senders (fraudsters). Future research about fraudsters using
advance fee fraud letters could help to identify to what extent they
have narcissistic personalities. However, what is striking to observe
is the fact that advance fee fraud letters are full of signs that the
sender magnified his own ego. Do fraudsters feel a deep complex of
inferiority characterizing narcissistic personalities? Of course, in
most of the cases, we do not know if it is the reality. On the other
hand, if we look at their messages, they reflect a narcissistic state
of mind. The basic question is then the following: Do advance fee
fraud letters imply to develop narcissistic messages? Or, do they
mirror a psychological trend of fraudsters who write such letters? In
other words, narcissistic contents of advance free fraud letters could
be either the effect, or the cause of the fraud stratagem.
Regulating the phenomenon of advance
fee fraud is not an easy task. Scammers have worldwide ramifications,
so that it is often impossible to find them. Tan (2002, p. 347) said
that cyber-criminals are often difficult to identify since they
committed their crimes at the very long distance from their victims.
Sometimes, the country in which they live and/or have their criminal
activities does not have strong criminal laws against
cyber-criminality. Criminals have the advantage not to feel subjected
to the rule of law. Criminal laws play their role "after the fact". In
other words, criminals have created some new tricks, and laws are
adopted or modified in order to prohibit such behaviors. It could take
one or two years, and even much more, for enacting or modifying such
new criminal laws. In the meantime, fraudsters will have created new
tricks that are not covered by existing laws. However, international
cooperation between regulatory agencies and police would help to
reduce the intensity of such fraud. But it is not a panacea. In the
long-run, citizens must be more aware of fraudsters’ tricks and traps
so that they will delete all Nigerian scams they will receive.
Educating people is quite efficient in the long term.
In the next years, advanced fee fraud
letters will certainly continue to be sent through e-mail.
Awareness-raising activities among "vulnerable social groups" (such as
old people) could help to reduce the damages. People should better
know the tricks and main defects of advanced fee fraud letters, so
that they will not respond to such letters. Even governments should
help their citizens to better know fraudsters’ traps. Making people
more aware of the phenomenon of advance fee fraud letters would help
to prevent the expansion of such fraud. In the long-run,
awareness-raising activities remain the basic solutions to the growing
importance of advance fee fraud letters.
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Full Professor and Chairholder of the CIBC Research Chair on Financial Integrity, Faculté d’administration, Université de Sherbrooke, 2500, boulevard Université, Sherbrooke (Québec) Canada J1K2R1. E-mail: Michel.Dion@USherbrooke.ca