Cheating the cheater
The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam
Like a surprisingly large number of his Nigerian countrymen, multimillionaire Ibrahim Abacha and his mother, Dr./Mrs. Mariam Abacha, seemingly had their liquid assets frozen by intolerant government authorities and soon required the help of a random American stranger with internet access in transferring their enormous wealth safely to a bank in Amsterdam. They usually wrote in all caps. The Abachas were looking for a savior and business partner who would front them $1,800 in transfer fees imposed by the “cargo manager” of a security firm. They promised a fair-sized cut of their fortune for the minor hassle to anyone who would help. Instead, they got TV and film actor Dean Cameron’s strange request for toast.
Next to crude oil, this scam is said to be the second-biggest source of income for Nigeria. While most of us immediately trash these “419 scams"—the Nigerian criminal code for theft—and curse our spam filters for not doing their job, Cameron, best known for his role as Chainsaw in 1987’s Summer School, sufficiently enticed one of these “Lads from Lagos,” hooked him, and kept him wiggling on his line for over nine months. The result is a rich, hilarious set of correspondence that has become his play, The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam.
Cameron says that while he was surprised when the scammer replied to his request for toast, he took it as a sign and set out to construct an alternative Dean Cameron. The alt-Dean was a lonely, psychologically unbalanced Florida millionaire with a spastic colon, an extra-familial love for his cats Mister Snickers and Jo Jo the Dancing Clown, a suspiciously hairless houseboy named Kwan, and an alacrity for helping out strangers like the Abachas.
Of course there was a catch: The alt-Dean Cameron also happened to suffer from a near-crippling incompetence when it came to completing most of life’s simplest tasks, much to the Nigerian scammer’s dismay but to the play’s hilarious benefit.
“I thought that if I was crazy enough that they just might fall for it,” says Cameron, joking that the alt-Dean is a version “only me and my shrink understand.”
After five years and dozens of performances of The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam at comedy festivals in Canada, Scotland and Los Angeles, the real Cameron says he is still in contact with the scammer.
“I sent him a press packet of the show,” he says. “He is apparently upset that I am making millions of dollars off this thing, and he wants his cut.”
Why would he think Cameron is making millions off this play? “I think because I told him I was,” says Cameron.
The scammer has been corresponding and negotiating royalties, ancillaries and merch with alt-Cameron’s lawyer, Mr. Perry Mason. Meanwhile, the show goes on, like a chess match played with hamsters instead of pieces.
In addition to a gray rainbow of ineptitudes on display, the play chronicles the budding romance between the alt-Dean and Abacha’s mother, played in all caps, by Abacha himself. “It really showcases the man’s range as an actor,” says Cameron.
Once Dr./Mrs. Abacha got over her terminal illness, she would be alt-Dean’s forever. “He was basically whoring his own imaginary mother out,” he says, laughing.
Audiences are encouraged to bring interesting, lightweight items of little to null value, such as Billy Ray Cyrus ephemera, ticket stubs from bad movies or ironic newspaper clippings for a care package Cameron sends after every show to his new buddy in Nigeria. Bank statements and copies of social security cards are not recommended.