In the 1990s, Africa's richest countries in terms of resources -- Nigeria and Zaire -- had dictators who were pushed out of power, leading to an international publicity movement to freeze international bank accounts of their families and friends.
The operation to freeze accounts associated with former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and former Zaire dictator Mobutu Sese Seko led to the birth of Internet scammers, pretense as family members with millions of dollars to hide from the authorities.
The scam, usually known as "advance fee fraud," has develop with technological development to include phishing scams -- which use phony sites -- and keyloggers at cybercafés that steal e-mail login information and send suffering calls to contacts.
The scams have also evolved to include social-networking sites and mobile-phone technology, and are taking advantage of worldwide events such as the upcoming FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
"As ICTs [became] more complicated, advance fee scams evolved to take advantage of new average such as instant messaging and online social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Ning), and in the process became the global phenomenon [they are] today," said Bill Zimmerman, CEO and founder of Limbelabs in Cameroon.
In the early scam messages, an e-mail would be sent introducing the sender as the wife/son/daughter or close family member of a former ruling family but would demand "an advance fee" before starting the transaction. In other e-mail, the contact would claim to have been awarded a huge government removal contract and would invite the "investor" to the country, where they would meet with phony government officials.