Feb. 24, 2011 — -- You see them all the time: e-mails from a "Nigerian Prince" with access to a large amount of money, who says he needs your help getting to it.
While the stories in each e-mail vary, many of them include a request for a certain sum of money, usually a few thousand dollars, which is needed by the "prince" to get access to a much larger amount, which he agrees to split with you for giving him the initial amount. While most of us simply delete these bogus e-mails without thinking twice, some Americans still get duped by these sinister scams and send their money to complete strangers.
We wondered what would happen if these normally private e-mail scams were played out at a public location. ABC News' "What Would You Do?" set up hidden cameras at Eros Café in Rutherford, N.J. to see if people would intervene when an obvious scam was being carried out on a helpless victim. We hired Kim, an actress, to play the part of a clueless computer novice, asking patrons in the café for help.
"This guy from Nigeria, I've written a couple times back and forth. He's in a lot of trouble right now and it's just the saddest story. I'm trying to help him," we had Kim tell unsuspecting diners.
It doesn't take long for patrons at the café to tell Kim that she might be the victim of a scam.
"He needs me to wire him $5,000. Because he's got this money that he's going to be sending to me. From that money, I'm gonna get like three million dollars," Kim tells a young man she called over for some help.
"I don't think it's a good idea … there's a lot of wire fraud going on," the man, a law student, told Kim.
We decided to raise the stakes and set up a Skype call between the Nigerian and Kim. Would our compassionate strangers back down when they see the scammer's face?
Of course, what the patrons did not know is that our Nigerian is also an actor, Raz, who was making the call from a computer set up in the basement of the café. When Kim started to give Raz her bank account number, the young man did not back down.
'He Can Steal Your Identity'
"I would tell you not to do it. It's your money. I don't know the situation fully. I just came in here, but I would be careful is all I'm saying. I can't tell you what to do, but I wouldn't do it," he advised Kim.
Once we decided to tell the young man that Kim is an actress and this is all part of WWYD, he explained his actions to us.
"If someone needs help, the least you should do is help someone out. Everybody should do that," he said.
We ran through this scenario several times throughout the day, and time after time, strangers cautioned Kim about the risks of the dodgy transaction.
"I really don't think that this is a genuine e-mail. We get stuff like this in e-mails all the time," two men told Kim. "Anything can happen."
"He can steal your bank account. He can steal your identity. He'll figure out your Social Security and steal money from all your banks and leave you in bankruptcy," another concerned customer told Kim.
When asking for Kim's bank account number, one brave woman even went in front of the computer and forcefully told Raz via Skype, "No, she can't give you the number. She's not gonna give you the number, she doesn't have a bank account!"
After we let her in on our secret, she explained to us simply, "If I can help somebody, I'll give them the right advice."
While our patrons had no problem confronting the scammer on Skype, we wondered what would happen when we had our Nigerian scammer take a seat in the café and attempt to scam helpless victims. Would anyone stand up to the con artist when he's up close and personal?