Deconstructing Chigbo

The email arrived on the day after New Year’s. I always start the new year with a belief that my mind is clear and hope exists for the world. (I’m not saying that either is particularly true. I’m just telling you what I believe.) In other words, it’s a good time to send me email.

The subject line, something that, because of my profession, I pay attention to, read: “Proposal.” Well, that’s going to get me every time. Our new firm is, after all, only three months old. And an email that’s called a proposal sounds like business, perhaps new business. I’m not saying that I don’t fall for playful or mysterious teasers. But “Proposal” fairly screams of opportunity.

The “From” line indicated that it was, presumably at least, from a real person: fredchi850@yahoo.com. I like email from real people. I don’t like email addresses that read like this: internetpopdata145727flytrap@freshmeet.tw.

Now, the Yahoo email address didn’t seem particularly business-like. But, I rationalized, it’s still early in the year and this person is probably writing from home. And, hey, I’m interested in proposals. Did I mention the part about believing that hope exists for the world?

Here’s the actual email. Normally, I would change a few things to protect the innocent. Were there only some innocence to protect…

Engr:Fred Chigbo

Lagos-Nigeria.

REQUEST FOR ASSISTANCE IN A FINANCIAL TRANSACTION

I am interested in your partnership in business dealing. This business proposal I wish to intimate you with is of mutual benefit and it’s success is entirely based on mutual trust, cooperation and a high level of confidentiality as regard this transaction.

I am the Chairman of the Contract Advisory Committee (CAC) of the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Works and Housing (FMWH). I am seeking your assistance to enable me transfer the sum of US$16,500,000.00 (Sixteen Million, Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) into your private/company account.

The fund came about as a result of a contract awarded and executed on behalf of my Ministry the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing. The contract was supposed to be awarded to two foreign contractors to the tune of US$60,000,000.00 (Sixty Million United States Dollars). But in the course of negotiation, the contract was awarded to a Bulgarian contractor at the cost of US$43,500,000.00 (Forty-Three Million, Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) to my benefit unknown to the contractor.

This contract has been satisfactorily executed and inspected as the Bulgarian firm is presently securing payment from my Ministry, where I am the Executive Director in-charge of all foreign contract payment approval.

As a civil servant still in active government service, I am forbidden by law to operate an account outside the shores of Nigeria. Hence this message to you seeking your assistance so as to enable me present your private/company account details as a beneficiary of contractual claims alongside that of the Bulgarian contractor, to enable me transfer the difference of US$16,500,000.00 (Sixteen Million, Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) into your provided account. On actualisation, the fund will be disbursed as stated below.

1. 30% of the fund will be for you as beneficiary.

2. 10% for reimbursement to both parties for incidental expenses that may be incurred during the course of the transaction.

3. 60% of the fund will be for me which I intend to invest in your country with you as my partner.

All logistics are in place and all modalities worked out for a smooth actualisation of the transaction within the next few working days of commencement. For further details as to the workability of this transaction, please reach me as soon as possible for further clarification. Thank you and God bless as I await your urgent response.

Yours Sincerely,

Fred Chigbo (Engr)

Of course, this is a scam. I knew it was a scam from the headline: “REQUEST FOR ASSISTANCE IN A FINANCIAL TRANSACTION.” You see, I was raised in Texas. In Texas, when somebody drives up to you in a supermarket parking lot requesting your (or, more likely, your grandmother’s) help with a financial transaction (or offering to repair the cracks in your driveway, for that matter), you know two things: he has no finances to transact, and he is acutely interested in your finances.

But if you take a closer look at this email, you can clearly see the framework, or structure, of persuasion. And therein lie some lessons for the honest business marketers among us.

First of all, the use of a headline in email communication is interesting. You don’t see it all that often. It’s not a bad idea, really. You want to honor a businessperson’s limited time. And a headline that is clear and cuts to the chase (like this one) does just that.

The email opens with, “I am interested in your partnership in business dealing.” I wish more business-to-business (B2B) emails began so plainly and forthrightly. The grammar’s a bit off. But it’s close enough for government work.

It seems that Fred Chigbo (Engr) has been reading some books about positioning. He spends a good deal of time establishing his market position: a midlevel government bureaucrat, an engineer, the “Chairman” of something or another. (Here’s how I think Mark Twain might summarize Chigbo’s career plans: “Government bureaucrat aspires to better-compensated criminal activity in private sector. Plenty of experience. References upon request.”)

The first part of the email is aimed at making it believable that such a person as Chigbo would stumble upon the kind of opportunity he is about to present.

Let me offer a legitimate message for comparison purposes: “As the leader in ______ technology, with audited customer savings in excess of $7 billion, we often come across information and opportunities that we think will be of value to our customers. So we’re inviting you to ________.”

The credentialing section of Chigbo’s message ends with the following showstopper: “I am seeking your assistance to enable me transfer the sum of US$16,500,000.00 (Sixteen Million, Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) into your private/company account.” Here, just two short paragraphs into his pitch, Chigbo’s already hitting me with the offer. There is smart marketing in this garden-variety fraud. If you have a truly powerful offer, don’t hide it. Don’t make me dig. (Sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet, fend off the urge to be more creative, and make “Free AMR Service Chain Optimization White Paper” the headline for your e-zine sponsorship.)

Important point, though: He couldn’t have led with the $16,500,000 sentence. He had to establish his credentials first. I had to trust Chigbo as messenger before I might ever believe his extraordinary message.

Chigbo’s $16,500,000 sentence is like waving Pamela Sue Anderson at a stadium tailgater party. The rational brain shuts down to conserve power for other, more compelling processes. The details of who and how — the “Bulgarian contractor” is a wonderful touch — are a bit dizzying. But who cares? After all, presumably, I’m going to have $16,500,000 transferred to my account. There is certainly going to be something in this for me. You bet. Who wouldn’t want her 30 percent plus half of 10 percent plus a new business partnership funded to the tune of 60 percent?

“All logistics are in place,” the email proceeds, “and all modalities worked out for a smooth actualisation of the transaction within the next few working days of commencement. For further details…” Translation: “And it couldn’t be any easier to begin your FREE Enterprise Value Assessment. To start TODAY, just call for more information.”

As B2B emails go, from subject line to call to action, Fred Chigbo (Engr) has a few things to teach us all.

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