“The Prince who can’t spell”


So, this happened …

This is how the fraud began.

Dear sir/madam, I am Prince Ali Adeyemi, and I am second in line to succeed the current King of Nigeria. This letter is not intended to to cause any embarrassment to you, but just to contact your esteem self-following the knowledge of your high repute and trustworthiness. On the 21st of Auguast 2000, my wife and two children were involved in a car accident along Lagos-Ibadan expres road. All occupants of the vehicle unfortunately lost there lives.

Prince Ali went on to tell me that his wife had been very wealthy in her own right, but didn’t have time to make a will, and now that she was dead, her wealth was going to be left to the Treasury of the State of Nigeria, and not to him and his family.

He wanted my help, and it was very simple. All he needed was to be able to transfer $3,154,874 of her money into my bank account, and then I could keep $500,000 and just transfer the rest of the money to him, so he could carry on supporting all the orphanages and other charities that his wife used to support.

Of course this is a scam, and if I had responded to this email, it wouldn’t have been long before they reveal the catch: they just need some money from me, like $10,000 or so, to be able to release the funds, and then the $500,000 would all be mine. Sigh.

I’ve had several lunchtime discussions with friends or colleagues on exactly this topic over the years, and I’m always surprised when someone declares, “Obviously it’s not a legitimate offer, look at the spelling mistakes! There’s no way someone would fall for such a badly-written email that is littered with typos!”

And this, ladies & gentlemen, is the point. Those spelling mistakes are on purpose. These scammers are not worried about scaring you off because you notice the spelling mistakes, they’re just being efficient with their time.

After all, there are three groups of people: (1) those who will fall for this scam, (2) those who will immediately delete the email when they realise it’s a scam, and then (3) the third group who might sort of believe it for a while but end up not getting swindled.

But you can imagine, it’s this third group of people which represents the biggest waste of time for the scammers. They have to email with these people, answer their questions, lead them on, but then the people in the third group end up not falling for it. So the smaller the group of “almost yes but eventually no” people, the quicker they can scam the “definitely yes” people.

So they fill the email with with typos. On purpose.

If you are the kind of person who would see the typos and immediately delete the email, then they aren’t interested in you.

And the more people they scare off through the typos, the more time they have to focus their efforts on converting you.

That’s a powerful filtering system! Imagine if we used that kind of thing (filters, not fraud!) in our own lives.

Simple Definition

The Prince who can’t spell: In the same way that those so-called ‘Nigerian scam’ emails are filled with typos to make sure only the really gullible people respond in the first place, there are many times where you (intentionally or unintentionally) create ‘red flags’ which help filter out your non-target people (and use ‘green flags’ to bring in the right people). Additionally, you should at least be aware of the flags which others are putting out, whether on purpose or not.

Discussing what it means

In this “Prince” #hashtag, people are deliberately doing something to filter out non-target people. Specifically, they litter their emails with typos to keep out thinking people, leaving behind only the really gullible ones.

(You might not have realized that the typos were on purpose, and you mocked their stupidity, but that’s an example of #[Umbrella in the sun], which is a different matter to what we’re looking at here.)

And they’re damn good at what they do. For example, to this day they still often explicitly claim to be from Nigeria, knowing that this type of fraud is called the Nigerian Scam and that alone should be enough to trigger alarm bells. Again, this leaves them to communicate with none other than the really gullible.

(Of course I’m not saying that these victims get what they deserve. A crime is a crime, and victims are victims.)

We can benefit from the concept of the “Prince” in two ways. Firstly, in what ways are we being presented with ‘typos’ by others that are red flags that we’re just not seeing? And secondly, how can we intentionally litter our world with ‘typos’ as red flags to prevent the wrong people coming into our lives? Let’s explore a bunch of examples.

The ‘typos’ that you should be noticing:

  • Have you interviewed someone for a job, someone who was good enough for you to interview twice because you were serious about hiring them, and they were late both times? Ultimately you get to decide whether to hire them, but don’t let that red flag go unnoticed. At the very least, challenge that person about their tardiness. (And no, that’s not being rude, that’s exactly the point of interviewing people)
  • Still with the hiring theme, I’ve hired many B2B sales people over the years (“client managers”) and learned early on that if I were to reject people because they came across as a little too ‘direct’ in the interview, then I was potentially eliminating all people who would end up being strong and confident enough to actually be great sales people.
  • Remember that first date when the waiter brought her salad but forgot to put the dressing on the side? Then rather than just asking him to do it again, she was so condescending and rude to the waiter? That’s good news for you – that ‘typo’ gives you the chance to see who she really is, and perhaps cancel the second date. And if you put up with her nastiness, then soon she might have you at the receiving end of those rude outbursts.
  • Or imagine going on one or two dates with a guy, then going back to his place, and – without really knowing much about you or your background – he is insisting on having sex with you without a condom. You’re welcome to, of course, that’s your preference and your choice. But if he’s asking that of you, then he’s likely asked that of others. Is that a warning sign that you might end up taking home more than you intended?
  • There are women who will not respond to anyone on a dating app who doesn’t have a clear profile picture. Their logic – their filtering for Prince-style “typos” – is that the married man who is hiding his face because he’s married and wants to remain anonymous, is actually not likely to be a meaningful potential future partner for her, so best not waste any time on him in the first place. Again, this dating strategy might filter out ‘Mr Perfect’ too, but it’s probably a great starting point for avoiding wasters and heart-ache.
  • I’ve read from many sources that one of the most effective ways a guy can improve his ‘hit rate’ on a dating app is to be holding a cute dog in his profile picture. Apparently it shows he’s fun, affectionate, and can look after another living being. It makes sense to filter for the right kind of person, but given it’s a well-known ‘hack’ (to borrow someone’s dog) I think that filter should no longer be effective. (And yet people apparently continue to rely on it.)

OK, enough with the dating examples …

  • In “The Conspiracy Theory Handbook”, the authors investigate the key characteristics of conspiracy theories, and at the top of the list is: they are contradictory! Yes, the more effective conspiracy theories usually contain ideas which are mutually contradictory. There appear to be two reasons for this: Firstly, they seem more intent on having people reject the official version of events, than wanting people to actually understand the conspiracy version. Secondly, if people seem to accept two ideas as true, even if they contradict each other, then such people – just like we saw with “The Nigerian Prince who can’t spell” – are likely to be more gullible, and thus accepting of everything else within that system. What a great way to draw in unthinking rabid followers of the system, and certainly convenient for pumping many other odd ideas into them too.
  • In 2005 there was at TV show called Space Cadets, where they selected a group of young people who would be sent into space. Well, that’s what they told these people, but they actually faked the entire thing. Of course they had to ensure they selected a particularly gullible group of people, and what I loved about the show was how they went about doing exactly this. For example, they would ask people to estimate the number of sweets in a jar – the real answer might have been a few hundred – but before they wrote their answer down, the person was shown fake data that made it look like most previous applicants had chosen a number around a few thousand. The ‘thinkers’ looked at the jar, disregarded the fake data, and stuck with their lower estimate. The gullible people immediately increased their estimate by a factor of 10x … and those were the people who generally got selected. This is another great example of how the Prince-style system filters people.
  • Steve Pavlina, the self-improvement blogger, offers various training courses on his website, but unlike many other such providers, he explicitly does not offer refunds, no matter how disappointed you say you are in the course. He explains that he doesn’t want to attract people who will be non-committal to the training simply because they know they can get a refund anyway. 
  • You know those disgusting images they put on cigarette packs in some countries to put people off smoking? Yup, those are also the equivalent of Prince-style typos.

The ‘typos’ that you could be leaving around the place:

  • I have an industry colleague who was setting up a membership group of senior international leaders, but he noticed he was attracting many people who only participated in the group to push their agenda and sell their products – there was very little sharing and collaboration coming from them (which was a purpose of the group). He had to become his own Nigerian Prince, and start littering his communications with typos (figuratively speaking) to ensure that the wrong people would feel less drawn to the group. And yes, he accepted that he might miss some good people along the way, but this is what he decided was the best way forwards.
  • On occasions when hiring people, if I was aware of a competing offer, I would sometimes suggest that the candidate should take that other offer seriously. Or I would encourage them to think carefully about accepting the counter-offer from their current employer. Some people would fight back and explain why they would much rather work for me than accept the competing offer – this was a good sign. Others would end up accepting the counter-offer, and I would feel like I dodged a bullet, because I would rather they come to that conclusion sooner, rather than wasting my time through more interviews, each taking time to set up and sit through, until they came to the conclusion themselves that they’d rather stay where they were.

It’s important that we live deliberate lives, because in doing so we can massively improve the experience and the outcomes for ourselves. You should be the so-called “Nigerian Prince who can’t spell” by intentionally making so-called ‘typos’ – to keep the wrong people out and to encourage the right people in.

And you should similarly be looking for the Princes around you, watching for their intentional and unintentional so-called “typos”, so that you can act as required.

Making it personal

In the discussion above I’ve given a number of examples of being the “Prince” and noticing the “Prince”. Hopefully you were tying your own experiences to these examples as you read through it, so it’s not particularly helpful for me to ask you to consider these examples again in your own context.

So instead I’ve written up some slightly more ‘out of the box’ questions for you to play with.

  • What object could you be holding in your dating app profile picture (even if you’re not dating, just play along) to either draw the right person in or push the wrong person out?
  • (And if you aren’t even sure what right and wrong is for you, it seems you’ve got more thinking to do.)
  • What could you write at the end of all work emails to increase the chance of the recipients seeing you as the kind of person that you want to appear as?
  • If you had to get a new personal email address, and if it had to be of the form _____@gmail.com, and if whatever name you wanted was available, what email address could you choose to filter people in & out as you’d like?
  • What photo could you use as a lock-screen wallpaper on your phone to avoid people at work getting the wrong impression about who you really are?
  • If you were doing your friend a favour and going on a coffee date with her cousin, but you really didn’t want the date to go well, what drink would you order at Starbucks to make sure the cousin never wants to see you again?
  • What slogan could you put on your t-shirt for a school reunion dinner, to prevent your old school bullies from coming across to speak with you at the event?

Have some fun with this, but try to come up with actual answers. No one gets better by merely assuming they can come up with good answers, but then doesn’t even bother trying. You’re better than that.

Related stories

#[Umbrella in the sun]

#[Getting your fill of Philip]

#[A punch is just a punch]

#[The sound of hot water pouring]