After receiving spam
EMail from Nigeria, Dean Cameron assumed the identity of a sexually confused
Florida millionaire, whose only companions were his houseboy and cats, and
began a nine month correspondence with the scammer.
"It's a great show. It's a smart show. It's a skillful show. It's an important show. It's a fall on your ass funny show."
For more information on the show, visit the official Spam Scam Scam Website.
Produced by Dean
PERFORMANCES AT SACRED FOOLS: As
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REVIEWS, FEATURE ARTICLES & INTERVIEWS!
From the Edinburgh run...
The Stage Online
Let's not mince words here, Cameron has created an absolutely brilliant show.
First stroke of genius is the concept. Cameron responded to those emails written IN CAPITAL LETTERS purporting to be from some dispossessed Nigerian society type desperate for you to lend them a large amount of money so that they, in turn, can rescue an even larger amount of their money that has been confiscated. In return you will receive a healthy percentage of this bigger amount of money.
On receiving this, Cameron adopted the disguise of a batty, ultra-camp American real estate dealer with more money than sense and a couple of pampered pussycats and struck up a correspondence. The show consists almost entirely of this correspondence being narrated.
And that is where the second stroke of genius comes in. The show is a masterclass in comedy writing. Cameron's character is unbelievably insane but not to the Nigerian scam master who responds with the beautifully deadpan nature of the perfect stooge. Isaacs plays the various Nigerian characters - the third stroke of genius being the presentation of this Fringe gem.
-- Jeremy Austin
©2004 The Stage Online
4 out of 5 stars
We’ve all had them. The e-mails from government officials or members of prominent families requesting our help to move enormous sums of money away from the prying eyes of an oppressive regime. For our assistance, and a small initial outlay, we are offered an astonishingly large percentage of the booty. This scam has been going on for years, but far from being a harmless annoyance, it has suckered in countless people, stripping them of their assets, and occasionally their lives.
After receiving the standard e-mail, Dean Cameron decided to reply, with a surreal "Great! Do you have any toast?" Amazingly, the character behind this particular incarnation of the scam, a Mrs Mariam Abacha, followed this up with a further plea. What followed was months of correspondence between Mrs Abacha, her son Ibrahim and Cameron, posing as a heavily-medicated, Florida millionaire living with only his houseboy and two cats - JoJo the Dancing Clown and Mr Snickers - for company.
The show details the increasingly desperate attempts of the Abachas to get money - or even sense - from Cameron and is as hysterical as it is absurd.
Cameron, in his crazy millionaire guise, reads out his side of the correspondence, while Victor Isaac takes on the role of the Abachas. The e-mail exchanges are broken up by visual aids, recordings of phone calls and narrative interludes, turning this into an almost theatrical experience. Cameron and Isaac both have trouble keeping a straight face at the more preposterous parts, one of which is when, on forwarding a similar scam e-mail to Ibrahim, Cameron is told in no uncertain terms not to trust e-mails from Nigeria.
It’s almost too incredible to be true, but true it is. So, next time you get one of these in your inbox, don’t delete it; reply, and you too could have months of amusement.
-- Kirsty Knaggs
©2004 The Scotsman
Chortle: The UK Comedy Guide
It's the type of time-sapping spam every inbox endures: the plea from the relatives of some recently dead Nigerian bigwig, wanting to smuggle millions out of the country with your help, and promising you a sizeable commission in return. No one would ever reply to such an obvious con, with the very real risk of having a bank account drained, would they? Well actor and comic Dean Cameron did. But only to take the piss.
Adopted the guise of a camp, lonely old millionaire living in Florida with a Filipino houseboy his two cats, Mr Snickers and Joe Joe The Dancing Clown, Cameron stretched out the communication over 11 months, always dangling the promise of money, but parting with no more than $4 to an increasingly frustrated scammer.
The result was a diverting website (www.spamscamscam.com) now made into this hour-long show. And for something comprising little more than the verbatim exchange of emails, the live version is surprisingly entertaining, too.
It's Cameron's alter-ego that takes the credit, gradually becoming more stupidly unpredictable as the correspondence continues, increasingly revealing bizarre little details of his life, from his spastic colon to the chintzy decor he favours. The breathless missives impishly tease with deliberately silly misspellings and creative stabs at the Nigerians' names indeed, he seems to think they are Mexican most the time.
He leads the crooks a merry little dance, professing his love for the widow, getting a pal to call from the agreed meeting place in Amsterdam and a brilliant wheeze this playing them off against another conman who spammed him. Their unsubtle response is hilarious.
The Nigerians act as the perfect straight men to Cameron, sleazy international crime gangs not being known for their sense of humour. Occasionally the correspondence comes out of hyperspace, and the mix of bewilderment and frustration in the phone calls as they try to extract their money from a man more obsessed with his feline companions is a delight. That this whole prank serves as a comeuppance of sorts is a bonus.
Cameron's a slick performer, as is his supporting actor Victor Isaac, but even they cannot overcome the show's only real problem: that even at a little over 50 minutes, it feels too long. The practical joke may be excellent, but it is just the one joke, not quite enough to sustain the duration, despite the best efforts to jazz it up.
Nonetheless, it's an engaging, witty tale, offering something a little different from the norm.
-- Steve Bennett
London Times (Feature Article)
Edinburgh festival: Wham bam thank you for the spam
Bored, Dean Cameron decided to reply to an e-mail scam. He tells Mark Fisher all about it
Using the word “spam” for junk mail was inspired by a Monty Python sketch in which the word was repeated ad nauseam. But even at its most surreal, Monty Python was never as bizarre as the nine-month exchange of e-mails the American actor Dean Cameron entered into when he replied to a Nigerian spammer.
With multiple identities, secret codes and guacamole recipes, the internet conversation became what Cameron calls a “spam scam scam” in which the would-be victim outwitted the fraudster. Now Cameron has turned his hilarious correspondence into a true-life fringe show. It promises to be this year’s answer to Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack Adventure.
Feeling besieged by unwanted e-mail, Cameron would send spoof replies for his own amusement. “I would always reply with one line, which was: ‘Great! Do you have any toast?’,” he says. “It just so happened that this one Nigerian spammer decided to answer back and I believe I’ve ruined his life. I strung him along for nine months, continuing to say, yeah I’ll get the money to you, but first let’s talk about my cats.”
The spammer had two identities, that of Mariam Abacha and of her son Ibrahim. They claimed to have had their assets frozen by the Nigerian government and wanted Cameron’s help in transferring their money to a bank in Amsterdam.
If Cameron could pay the $1,800 transfer charges being imposed by the cargo manager of the security firm, they’d give him a cut of the cash. Most of this was written in capital letters.
“Once they responded, I wrote back and created this character called Dean Cameron who was a lonely millionaire in Florida who lived with his cats and his houseboy named Kwan and was nuts,” says Cameron, a Los Angeles TV and film actor. “I would keep dropping hints about the money I had, talking about how my cats were going to get $100,000 after I died, so I became this person who was just crazy enough to fall for their scam.”
He used tactics of delay, diversion and obfuscation, always finding good reasons not to send the money. He said he’d made a cheque out in the wrong currency, offered the equivalent value of postage stamps, claimed not to understand how the international banking system worked and sent $4 as a test.
His e-mails were full of confusingly irrelevant details about his favourite television programme (an American series called Mister Sterling in which he had a part). He offered to send them avocados and provided a recipe for guacamole.
In return for the photographs he sent of his cats, the Nigerian sent pictures of Abacha and of two suitcases stuffed with US dollars. Upping the stakes, Cameron introduced a new character. “I forwarded him an e-mail from another Nigerian spammer saying: ‘Hey, what a coincidence, someone else is having the same problems you are.’ He said this great thing: ‘Don’t trust any e-mails coming from Nigeria.’ What a wonderful paradox.”
The paradox didn’t end there. Ibrahim, if that was his name, began posing as the second Nigerian spammer, Dr Donald Abayomi, because Cameron had claimed to have given Abayomi money without any problem. “It was just crazy, very Byzantine and really funny,” says Cameron.
Relishing the internet’s capacity to invent new identities, Cameron fielded two more characters: his attorneys Perry Mason and Owen Marshall, taking their names from popular television shows. The lawyers slowed proceedings either by trying to protect their client or by trying to defect to the Nigerian’s side.
It all ended with a 30-minute phone call in which Cameron pretended to be both his fictional alter ego and Perry Mason. “It was the same voice I used when I was trying to get myself out of school when I was a kid, pretending to be my dad,” says Cameron. “He never realised. My Dean Cameron character would come on and start singing a song and trying to find the cats, and the cats went under the sofa and he couldn’t get them, so we had to hang up.”
But even after the scammer finally found Cameron’s webpage and discovered he himself was being scammed, the surrealism continued. “What was very funny,” says Cameron, a little sad his nine-month hobby is over, “is that he was writing as the mother, who doesn’t exist, saying: ‘I can’t believe you posted all of our correspondence on this webpage, you’ve broken my heart.’ Obviously they’ve read the website and they know that I know they are fake. It’s just paradox after paradox.”
There’s a serious side to all this as criminals turn increasingly to internet fraud. Cameron even performed to a seminar of anti-fraud professionals who were delighted to see someone fooling around with a conman in a way they were not allowed. “This Nigerian spam can be dangerous,” says Cameron. “They get you to go down to Nigeria and they kidnap you and hold you hostage until you pay them or they meet you in Amsterdam and kill you. They’re very bad people. I felt good wasting their time.”
Making his first trip to the Edinburgh fringe is a thrill, he says, but his immersion into the world of double-dealing has made him nervous: “What if the producers are scamming me to come to Scotland and the Nigerians are setting this whole thing up?”
-- Mark Fisher
©2004 London Times
The Complete Guide to the Edinburgh Festival 2004
4 out of 5 stars
Most people can spot a scam email when they see it and quickly delete it. Dean Cameron, with a cheeky mind and too much time on his hands, decided to go that bit further and attempt to con the conmen. This is a highly entertaining and unusual show about the email correspondence Dean set up with some Nigerian internet scammers to give them a taste of their own medicine. It is hilarious to see how Dean was stringing the scammers along, reinventing himself as an eccentric weirdo with a cat obsession. The telephone conversations and the pictures that he sent to the conmen are especially funny as they are a complete piss-take. It's great to see the schemers getting beaten at their own game.
Say hello to Mr Snickers
From phonecalls with Nigerian conmen to the Smurfs reassessed, the non-sequiturs get the best laughs
If you have an email address, you'll almost certainly have received at some point a plangent request from the widow of a Nigerian general who needs your bank details to help her get back her $30 million fortune, which she will share with you at some future date. Most of us delete them, the odd terminally thick American actually sends money, and then finds their savings wiped out. But actor Dean Cameron, with time on his hands between jobs, one day hit the 'reply' button and wrote: 'Great - do you have any toast?'
So began an 11-month correspondence with a Nigerian crime syndicate, in which Cameron adopted the persona of a lonely, camp Florida millionaire and the Nigerians desperately attempted to humour him in the hope of getting some cash. Cameron reads his own emails and the Nigerian replies are read by Victor Isaac, whose deadpan, with the occasional raised eyebrow, beautifully conveys the frustration of the scammers. They provide details of where to send money orders; instead, Cameron sends them avocados and chats about his spastic colon, his Filipino houseboy and his cats, Mr Snickers and Jo-Jo The Dancing Clown. There are even recordings of genuine 'conference calls' between the mysterious Ibrahim, Cameron and his 'lawyer', Perry Mason, in which the Nigerian is persuaded to say hello to Mr Snickers.
This is very much in the Dave Gorman school of comedy, made glorious here by the sheer absurdity of Cameron's non-sequiturs, and refreshingly original in its premise.
-- Stephanie Merritt
©2004 The Observer
From the Sacred Fools run...
L.A. Times (Feature Article)
The Web of Lies
"Urgent and Confidential: Dean Cameron's Nigerian Spam Scam Scam" turns the tables on a well-known internet scam.
One day Dean Cameron would like to meet the unwitting co-author of his play "Urgent and Confidential: Dean Cameron's Nigerian Spam Scam Scam."
Though the mystery man with whom Cameron exchanged e-mail for nearly a year is clearly a remorseless con artist who would "kill your mother for 50 bucks," as Cameron puts it, this elusive figure did prove himself a worthy match for the elaborate fictions Cameron spun to keep their exchange going past the initial form-letter plea for help.
While the actor-writer corresponded in the voice of an imaginary "Dean Cameron" — a cheerfully eccentric Florida millionaire with a spastic colon, two playful felines and a mischievous Asian houseboy — his Nigerian foe deftly alternated between the voices of both Maryam Abacha and her son Ibrahim, purportedly the heirs to a vast fortune left by the late Gen. Sanni Abacha, a real-life Nigerian leader who died in 1998. All they needed from Cameron, they explained, was $1,800 to help "unlock" this "frozen" inheritance of $30 million, of which Cameron would receive a generous portion.
This Abacha-manqué offered Cameron more than just a tantalizing peek behind the official-seeming boilerplate used to perpetrate these common "419" scams — so called for the Nigerian law enacted to crack down on Internet fraud. The elusive spam-scammer also had a natural scenarist's flair.
"He writes the Maryam role as well or better as I write the Dean Cameron role," Cameron effuses of his unknown opposite number. "You really get a sense of the mother as this reserved woman who's grieving for her husband, and who finally falls for Dean, this American man."
Indeed, though the budding pen-pal romance between Maryam and Dean is just one of the unlikely story arcs of "Urgent and Confidential," it explains why the play, performed reader's-theater style by Cameron and costar Victor Isaac, evokes a sort of absurdist, house-of-mirrors "Love Letters."
The theatrical possibilities of the exchange emerged when Cameron began to gather a virtual audience, first via forwarded e-mail, then via a popular website. It was presumably for the benefit of these in-on-the-joke readers that when the fictional Dean sought legal counsel, his lawyer was none other than Perry Mason.
Still, most of his character's idiosyncrasies — misspellings and malapropisms, a desire to share a guacamole recipe and pictures of his cats, oblique references to a wide and unconventional sexual appetite — were designed solely to get a rise out of his implacable pen pal.
"Once, in the letters, I talk about how my houseboy Kwan has ruined my Turkish bath towels," Cameron says. "And [the scammer] wrote me back and said, 'I think you should get rid of Kwan.' "
Cameron's proudest moment, though, came when his correspondent acknowledged his fictional cats by name: "The first letter where he said, 'Say hello to Mr. Snickers and Jojo the Dancing Clown,' I stood up and screamed."
Later, perhaps out of exhaustion at Cameron's constant digressions and delays, the scammer confuses one cat's name with the title of a TV show, "Mister Sterling," that "Dean" has repeatedly plugged in e-mail as his "new favorite." Cameron clearly relishes such signs, however small, of humanity in his unseen adversary.
"The tenacity is admirable," he says, "because I'm not the only one he was dealing with, and I'm sure that's why he got the names confused."
Of course, if the anonymous con artist had actually caught an episode of NBC's short-lived "Mister Sterling," he might have noticed that a bespectacled 40-year-old actor named Dean Cameron was among the show's stars. To this day, Cameron can't be sure to what extent the Nigerian con man was on to him as surely as vice versa. There's reason to believe many scammers are wise to such reversals.
For all the fun Cameron had, it's often the Internet fraudsters who get the last laugh. The U.S. Secret Service reportedly receives 100 calls a day from Americans who have been solicited or defrauded in such schemes.
Don Masters, an agent at the Los Angeles office of the Secret Service, recalls the sobering case of a Beverly Hills retiree whose conscience was pricked, and his checkbook opened, by a scammer's tales of torture at the hands of the Nigerian government.
"He started off with a $2,500 hit and ended putting his home up on a second mortgage and lost everything," Masters recalls, putting the total loss in the range of $600,000. "Those are the real sad ones."
Last summer, Cameron caught some flak when he took the show, currently at the Sacred Fools Theatre, to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where he plans to take it again next year, as well as to venues across the country and to corporate functions.
"When we went to Scotland, my director, Paul Provenza, warned that if we think we're politically correct here, over in Europe they're really PC. And one or two guys after the show there gave me a hard time, like, 'Don't you feel bad making fun of Nigerians?' "
He said he's spoken to people who know firsthand the desperate situation in Nigeria, where "this is one of the only opportunities for smart people" to make a living. Still, he points out, "There are a lot of people who live in poverty who don't turn to crime."
-- Rob Kendt
(Special to the Times)
©2004 L.A. Times
L.A. CityBeat (Feature Article)
You’ve likely received it many times: the e-mail from Nigeria promising you a glorious sum of money in exchange for agreeing to transfer “locked” funds into your bank account. The matter is urgent, it must be kept confidential, and if you’re dumb enough to fall for it, you’re destined to regret it.
Or turn the idea into a play. Currently running at Sacred Fools Theater in Hollywood, Urgent & Confidential: Dean Cameron’s Nigerian Spam Scam Scam, presents one man’s journey into conning the con artists. Cameron, an actor and writer, started answering his Nigerian e-mails in January 2003, when he had a small part on the TV show Mr. Sterling and too much time in the computer-equipped dressing room. “I always replied with a one-joke sentence,” he says. And then, one day, someone took him seriously. What followed was nine months of truly bizarre correspondence, in which Cameron assumed the identity of a crazy Florida millionaire with a Filipino houseboy and a cat named Mr. Snickers. With a bunco cop at his side and a lot of excuses for why he hadn’t yet sent the requested cash, Cameron kept writing, and soon a comedy was born. “At heart I’m a lazy guy, so having someone write half of this was great,” he says.
Urgent & Confidential offers 55 minutes of the actual phone calls and letters exchanged in this scam/counter-scam. The two-person show stars Cameron as “a version of myself only my shrink understands,” and Sacred Fools’ Victor Isaac playing several Nigerian characters. Actor-comedian Paul Provenza directs the work, which recently received great applause at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. (Europeans are also no strangers to the “4-1-9” fraud, a reference to a section of the Nigerian penal code.) Among the hilarious turns, both parties still keep in touch. “They sort of think I get [the scam], but they’re desperate enough to keep talking,” says Cameron.
“Either that, or they’re doing a show in Nigeria about a crazy American.”
-- Rebecca Epstein
©2004 L.A. CityBeat
Who hasn't checked their e-mail, only to find a plaintive cry for help in exporting a vast amount of wealth from a third-world nation? Haven't you wondered who these people are? Dean Cameron, in this epistolary romp, has found out for you. It's probably the silliest look at human greed currently running. The initial plea inspires Cameron to respond, "Great! Do you have any toast?" This leads to an ongoing exchange, currently at 11 months, in which Cameron adopts the persona of a wildly wealthy albeit clearly unhinged Floridian who desires nothing more than to marry the widowed Mariam Abacha. Mind you, Cameron gives absolutely no reason for anyone to believe he's anything other than a hoax: He obsesses about his (fictional) cats Mr. Snickers and Joe Joe the Dancing Clown; his legal staff consists of Perry Mason and Owen Marshall, counselor-at-law; and he's laboring under the illusion that Nigeria is somewhere south of Mexico. The putative Abachas hang on, though, even after the discovery that Cameron is posting their exchanges on a Web site (spamscamscam.com)--a bit of duplicity blamed on the (also fictional) pouty, hairless, Thai houseboy. The Abachas continue to wheedle Cameron to come through with the necessary funds to this day.
Cameron has much verve as a performer, but at the same time he can never be accused of being overly comfortable or slick onstage. With his round head, peroxided hair, and almost cartoonish brows, he's easy to buy as a deranged Floridian. The writing--for which he is only partially responsible, I suppose--is fresh and funny. In his role as both Abachas, Victor Isaac is remarkably subtle. His splayed hands evoke as much of the aggrieved Mrs. Abacha as does his face. Paul Provenza's directorial tone strikes just the right balance of whimsy and venality. He also does a nice job of energizing the basically static structure of two men at lecterns reading from laptops to each other. The entrance of the unbilled Aldrich Allen as an additional Nigerian scammer was a surprise, and a nice one. Oh, and bring a piece of small but interesting crap with you. You'll see why.
-- Wenzel Jones
©2004 BackStage West
L.A. Weekly (Recommended!)
It began when actor Dean Cameron received some Nigerian spam: Dr.-Mrs. Mariam Abacha claimed the repressive Nigerian government had confiscated her late husband’s fortune, leaving her destitute. But three million dollars was concealed, to be transferred to a bank in Amsterdam. If Cameron would contribute $2,000 to defray the transfer costs, he’d receive one third of the money. Cameron decided to scam the scammers, deluging them with e-mails, phone calls and obfuscations to tantalize them, without giving anything away. He refers to Amsterdam as Ass-Master-Dam, talks of his lawyer Perry Mason, and pretends he’s fallen in love with Mrs. Abacha. He addresses her “son” Ibrahim as “Ibra-baked-ham,” or “my dusky friend.” He sends them mysterious keys, photos of his cats, and guacamole recipes, and refers suggestively to his hairless Oriental houseboy Kwan. For a while this is funny stuff, but finally one begins to feel for the Nigerians, which is really quite a feat. If they’re dumb and gullible enough to fall for this nonsense, and desperate enough to hang on for more than a year, Cameron’s game starts to seem sadistic. Cameron has sharp, comic skills, as do Victor Isaac and Aldrich Allen as the various Nigerians, and director Paul Provenza paces the show with style.
-- Neal Weaver
©2004 L.A. Weekly
In 2003, Dean Cameron opened a desperate e-mail from a so-called Nigerian prisoner, "Dr. Mrs. Miriam Achaba," pleading for assistance in liberating $30 million. Instead of deleting, Cameron sent a reply: "Great! Do you have any toast?"
The correspondence that this impudence generated forms the double-dealing impetus of "Urgent & Confidential: Dean Cameron's Nigerian Spam Scam Scam" at Sacred Fools Theater. Writer-actor Cameron's bald-faced recounting of his ongoing Internet shell game with African grifters is doubly hilarious for being true.
A crowd pleaser at this year's Edinburgh Festival, "Urgent & Confidential" plays as straight-faced seminar, with music stands, laptops, projections and the stranger-than-fiction text. Passing himself off as a fey Florida millionaire, Cameron baits widowed "Miriam" and/or her son, "Ibrahim" (Victor Isaac) into ever-more convoluted responses. The befuddled criminal element falls for Cameron's outlandish stream of typos, misnomers and intrusions by a Filipino houseboy, a spastic colon and the legal team of Perry Mason and Owen Marshall. Visual jokes include received shots of "Miriam," Google-obtained felines, and a dandy guacamole recipe.
Under Paul Provenza's direction, Cameron whirls between himself and his invented personas like Larry David on happy dust. He and the desert-dry Isaac are screamingly funny in their fluctuating reactions, and Sacred Fools mainstay Aldrich Allen makes a gonzo surprise appearance.
With computer fraud allegations bombarding the nation from home offices to polling places, "Urgent & Confidential" offers a slight but tonic counter-offensive.
-- David C. Nichols
©2004 L.A. Times
Los Angeles Loyolan
"Urgent" and Hysterical Comedy
Everyday, millions of Americans log on to their e-mail accounts only to find heaps of spam awaiting them. Most contain offers of discounted Viagra, free downloads or links to pornography sites. Some junk mail even becomes infamous, such as Paris Hilton’s illicit sex video with former flame Rick Solomon. Whatever the content, its presence is usually unwelcome. In fact, many online services now provide protection for its customers that weed out such e-mails. It is this very subject of spam mail that serves as the inspiration for Dean Cameron’s new play, “Urgent and Confidential—Dean Cameron’s Nigerian Spam Scam Scam.”
Though most people quickly delete these letters, Dean Cameron takes a different route and actually sends correspondence to the writers of a piece of spam mail he receives. The letter was supposedly from a Dr. Mrs. Mariam Abacha and her son Ibrahim Abacha of Nigeria, whose money has been frozen by their country’s government. Cameron quickly identifies this junk e-mail as a scam. This e-mail asks Cameron to set up an offshore account at the expense of $2000. It continues, proclaiming that after the account has been opened, the family would then flee their country and deposit their fortune into the account. In return, Cameron is said to be reimbursed with a certain percent of the family’s fortune, provided they made it safely to America.
Dean Cameron, who some may recognize from movies such as “Summer School” and “Ski School,” plays himself alongside Victor Isaac—who is no stranger to the performing arts and can be seen in the upcoming movie “Taxi”—playing the roles of both Mariam and Ibrahim Abacha. The entire play consists of these two men reenacting the correspondence between Mr. Cameron and the scam artists.
The audience laughed throughout the play and with good cause, given the nature of these e-mails and the eccentric personality Cameron takes on when writing them. Cameron writes under the guise of a Florida millionaire who seems to be sexually confused, to say the least. His sole focus in life is the goings-on of his two prized cats, Joe Joe the Dancing Clown and Mr. Snickers. Never does an e-mail go by that does not mention some new story regarding the cats. Cameron also nails the part of an ignorant, self-centered American when he butchers the names of his scammers in every correspondence.
The Abachas initially show slight irritation at the content of his letters and urge him not to deviate from the task at hand—to give them his money. Soon enough, they are regaling his stories, inquiring about the cats and never saying a word about the numerous variations of the names with which Cameron addresses them. One can only assume this because they believe the idiocy of their query that will eventually lead them to money. Greatly adding to the hilarity is Isaac’s ability to deliver the responses from Mariam and Ibrahim deadpan. This combination of American dupe versus desperate scammer is a humorous repartee that Cameron and Isaac are able to maintain throughout the show.
In August 2005, the actors will take their comedic piece to the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. Until then, both Cameron and Isaac will, without a doubt, continue to capture audiences with the humorous correspondence and Cameron’s inventive imagination.
-- Krissy Hawkins & Brittany Bond
©2004 Los Angeles Loyolan
If you have an email account with any of the big companies – MSN, Yahoo, EarthLink - you’ve probably received the email; a convoluted and urgently worded plea for money from some vaguely royal or deposed luminary from Nigeria. It has an impossible-to-follow explanation for why MILLIONS of dollars are locked up, how the only key to the incredible wealth is your compassion, kindness, and $2000, and how in exchange for $2000 you will receive a percentage of the fortune. Many of you will simply delete the email and go about your day. Dean Cameron has engaged one of these con men in a 9-month (and counting) correspondence that he has mounted as an entertaining and witty comment on greed and patience.
URGENT AND CONFIDENTIAL: Dean Cameron’s Nigerian Spam Scam Scam is, as they say, funny because it’s true. Against a backdrop of the American flag (a set detail from another show running at the Sacred Fools Theater), is a bank of televisions and two podiums from which the actors read excerpts from the emails. Cameron’s character is a nutty, very confused cat lover, who uses intimations of wealth and sexuality - at times hetero, at times homo - to bait Mariam and Ibrahim Abacha into continuing the exchanges. Victor Isaac portrays the mother and son team with earnest desperation and canny sex appeal. Cameron personalizes the 45-minute performance with details of his life and uses images projected on the televisions to excellent dramatic effect. The most interesting and hilarious moments of the evening, however, come from actual tape-recorded telephone conferences between Cameron, his ‘lawyer” Perry Mason, and the real-life Ibrahim.
The telephone calls are an attempt by Ibrahim to clarify for Cameron the procedure for getting the money to Amsterdam, where the $30 million is secured. Cameron uses every trick in the book – over-the-top gay mannerisms - complete with two cats, a houseboy, a lisp, and a flaming red silk robe, non-sequiturs (he replies to pleas for money with a guacamole recipe and a photo of his shaved cat), and malapropisms galore, but the profound comedy comes from Ibrahim in trying to keep his batty “mark” on the line. You’ve got to hand it to the guy; he keeps his eye on the prize. The roles of hunter and prey flip-flop dizzyingly, and the clever twists escalate when another Nigerian scam artist contacts Cameron. By the time Cameron sends Ibrahim a little “something for his trouble,” the conman most definitely has earned it.
Outmaneuvering a manipulator – everyone delights in it, none more than Cameron who even has a website where you can read the entire unabridged and ongoing saga. URGENT AND CONFIDENTIAL is comedic mother lode mined with wit, intelligence and a little cruelty; a glorified staged reading – glorified by the outrageous characters invented by both sides, and portrayed with gusto by Dean Cameron and Victor Isaac. You’ll wish you had thought of it first.
-- Judith Annozine
©2004 L.A. Splash
The Motley Fool (Interview)
If It's From Nigeria, Hit Delete
Dean Cameron was bored. He had a minor role in a television show in January 2003, a high-speed Internet connection, and a lot of free time. He also had a penchant for responding to people asking him to help them move millions of dollars out of Nigeria. One such scammer took the bait, starting a two-year-long correspondence that resulted in "Dean Cameron's Nigerian Spam Scam Scam," a two-person play.
By now, anyone who has an email address has seen one or two (million) pleas from wives or children of deposed Nigerian dictators offering them the chance of a lifetime. I must get 20 a day. Hold on, let me go check my inbox.
Ah, look. Here we go:
From: MOSES AZIZ.
This letter may come to you as a surprise due to the fact that we have not yet met. I have to say that I have no intentions of causing you any pains, so...
Sadly, Mo here is dying. He needs to transfer $30 million out of Nigeria and needs an outside partner. That would be me. He ships me the money, I get to keep 10%. Bow before me, plebeians, I'm gonna be rich!!!!
Except that there's no money coming my way from this, guaranteed. This is what is known as a 419 scam -- 419 is the criminal statute in Nigeria dealing with such frauds -- and the only money that would be transferred if I engaged my dear Mr. Aziz would be from me to him. These are scams, plain and simple. That they ever work at all simply baffles me, in the same way that I can't believe that people are influenced by those penny stock hype emails. (An update: Those same companies are now down an average of 92%.)
Your best course, naturally, is simply to delete these emails. But if you have some time on your hands, and a penchant for corresponding with potentially dangerous people, then you might find some sport in playing with the scammers, keeping hope alive. Actor Dean Cameron decided to do just that, responding to an email from "Mrs. Mariam Abacha" in January 2003 with "Great! Do you have any toast?" Thus began a 22-month correspondence between Cameron, taking on the persona of a sexually confused single middle-aged Floridian millionaire who lives with his cats and a houseboy.
There are two things that I love about this. First, the fact that Cameron used these actual emails as the basis for a live two-person show called "Dean Cameron's Nigerian Spam Scam Scam," running through December 18 at the Sacred Fools Theater in Hollywood, Calif., and we in the rest of the country can only hope that they go elsewhere around the country after that. (What Motley Fool could resist such a name as the "Sacred Fools Theater?" If you're in or near Los Angeles, go see the show!!) Cameron is somewhat circumspect as to whether he will be paying "Mrs. Abacha" or her "son" "Ibrahim" for writing half of the show. Second, for a couple of hardened scammers, I absolutely adore just how earnest and gullible Cameron's correspondents can be, particularly when Cameron introduces them to another Nigerian scammer and suggests that they work together.
I recently spoke with Cameron about his show and experiences with the Nigerian scammers.
The Motley Fool: Is it true that these scams are the fifth largest Nigerian export?
Dean Cameron: As far as we can tell, it's true. It may be even higher, but obviously it doesn't show up on official statements. I know that in the U.K., it's about $20 million per year, and it's about the same in the United States. A lot of it is underreported, a lot of people figure out they've been scammed and don't report it out of sheer embarrassment. So we don't really know, but it's in the tens of millions of dollars.
TMF: Why don't you ask Ibrahim how much he's taken in?
DC: That's actually one of the things I wanted to do with this show, turn it into a documentary and actually sit down and talk with the guy. I've had phone calls with him, but they were obviously in character as a crazy person. On a call-in radio show I once got a call from a Nigerian living in the U.S. who had family members who were scammers. They sit in Internet cafés all day and they run this scam.
TMF: Have you met people who have been taken in by such a scam?
DC: We did the show at a conference of bunco cops early this year. One of the people speaking was the wife of someone who had lost $250,000 to Nigerian scammers.
TMF: Well, I'm glad they aimed low, my emails are usually asking for 5 grand.
DC: Well, after that initial amount of money, they continue to soak you. They get your bank details and clean out your account.
TMF: I'm always baffled that people fall for this. Don't these emails scream "danger!" to you?
DC: I'm baffled too, but you have to remember, everyone believes weird things. There's feng shui, there's astrology, there are all these crazy things people buy in to. A friend of mine says "everybody got the gris gris," everyone has something that they believe that is weird. You can't win the lottery, but people buy tickets. So someone falling for a scam, you can't get too incredulous, because there's certainly something that you believe that is certifiably nutty. So sure, it's possible that there is somebody with $30 million in a bank who needs your help.
TMF: Yeah, "why not me?"
DC: Exactly. At one point they send me a picture of Mrs. Abacha sitting on this ornate couch, probably the ugliest couch I have ever seen. I wrote back saying, "What are the odds? We must shop in the same place. I have the same couch!" I know a foreign correspondent at NPR who has actually sat on the couch where Mrs. Abacha's picture is taken. I'm pretty sure, at this point, that I've never heard from the real Mrs. Abacha after two years.
TMF: But at this point they can't not know that you're aware this is a scam. They know that you're scamming them back, right?
DC: They found the website. He wrote me as Mrs. Abacha, saying, "I can't believe you've posted out correspondence on the website, you've broken my heart." When "she" wrote this, I wrote back and blamed it on my houseboy Kwan, saying he was mad at me and he's trying to ruin my name. "Mrs. Abacha" wrote back saying, "I forgive you, do you still love me? I love you!"
TMF: Tell me about the origins of the play. I see a lot of bored fun in the emails, but at some point you made the transition from thinking you had good material for a website to figuring out you really had something here.
DC: Well, it wasn't really me. I was just sending this to friends, saying, "Can you believe this?" So then some of them, like Penn Jillette and Eric Stoltz said, "This would be a very good play," and so last year we did a test version of it and people loved it. So Paul Provenza helped me shape it into a good piece of theater, and we took it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and got rave reviews.
TMF: As far as you know, has anyone in Nigeria ever been arrested for this?
DC: Nigeria's such a mess that its laws are mainly treated as "suggestions," so I don't know of anyone who has been arrested in Nigeria. A scambaiter like myself got someone in Ireland. They tracked him down through IP addresses to an Internet café in Ireland. He was, of course, Nigerian, but living in Ireland.
TMF: Are you aware of many people doing this? I'd think that on some levels it's kind of dangerous. I know of one other group, who use Rudy from the show Survivor as their character.
DC: Yeah, there are others, but none of them have a play.
DC: My favorite is a guy who says he's a member of the Church of the Painted Breast. He's amazing. He says, "I'd like to give you money, but I belong to this church, and if you join the church I will send you money. What you have to do is paint a red circle around your left breast. He sent a picture of himself and a bunch of friends posing with red circles on their breasts, and the guy in Nigeria replied with a picture of himself with a red circle on his breast.
TMF: Whatever it takes, right? I'm baffled by how persistent Ibrahim is. You put him through hell to get this money. If someone sent me guacamole recipes instead of money, I'd have to take that as a sign that this was someone who was, at a minimum, a barking lunatic.
DC: I think that was part of the attraction for Ibrahim. My goal was to drop just enough hints that he would stay on the hook. He still writes. The last correspondence was in July and it's pretty simple: "That sounds great, send us a check." They're pretty much done with it. But what I'm doing with the show is I'm taking up a collection of tchotchkes, and I've got eight large DHL boxes of stuff like Blockbuster (NYSE: BBI) cards, keychains, feminine hygiene products, and so on. Last time I sent something, I sent $4, along with some keys which I told him were to safe deposit boxes around the world.
TMF: Is there anything people can do to turn these people in? Or is the best advice to do not as you do, and ignore it.
DC: I think ignore it is the best thing. But a woman from Nigeria came to the show and said, "I love that you're wasting their time, because if you are they aren't hurting someone else." Scambait them and have fun. Maybe you'll get a show. They're almost impossible to catch.
TMF: Have you ever felt you were in danger doing this?
DC: I had a bunco cop watching my back, and he'd make sure I didn't do something stupid. Fake faxes, the mailing address was a post box. There were a couple times when he offered to come to the United States and I ignored that. Of course, Victor [Isaac], who does the show with me, hopes I get hurt, because then he'll have a great show.
TMF: The sequel will be amazing. It'll have the closer that Hollywood seems to demand.
DC: Yeah, it'll have pathos. "Dean Cameron, I kill you!!"
TMF: From our perspective at The Motley Fool, we just appreciate what you're doing. We try to help people make good money decisions, and I can't think of too many that would be worse than this one. It's like the lottery times a million.
DC: Well, yeah, because there is no chance you're winning if you play.
TMF: Dean, thanks for your time. I hope we see "Dean Cameron's Nigerian Spam Scam Scam" all around the country.
DC: Thanks, Bill.
Bill Mann and Dean Cameron will be leading a guided tour of Lagos in March. To reserve, please send money to....Uh-huh, riiiight.
-- Bill Mann (TMF Otter)
©2004 The Motley Fool