What do Street Canvassing and Nigerian email scams have in common? [A light-hearted look at Insurance prospecting]

Posted 12 April, 2018 by Clearly
in Just for Fun


Sometimes stuff just hits you, especially when you are not looking.

We don’t mean physical things like bricks, but epiphanies.

Looking at the spate of online gripes about Street Canvassing, we can safely assume that it is not well tolerated by the general public, to say the least. The image below illustrates it all.



If you aren’t exactly sure what it is, Street Canvassing is an age-old method of Insurance prospecting. Insurance agents (usually armed with a clipboard and lanyard) stand around places of high foot traffic, attempting to engage passers-by with conversations about savings or protection. Most people would walk on, and a few might leave their contacts via a “survey” form.

And as you may imagine, the success rate isn’t fantastic. Yet why do we still see it happening daily? Isn’t there a better way to go about this?

Then, of course, we had an epiphany. Nigerian email scams. Street Canvassing. Direct match!

Before we go on to explain the similarity, let us put in a kind word to all our agent friends out there. They could have done this in the past with great success, and some of us may have actually found good agents out there with this approach. Nothing against Street Canvassing, but this article is just a light-hearted theory that we’ve formulated.

Is it absolutely true? You be the judge.


The Classic Nigerian Email Scam and why it works


We all know what this is.



You get an impossibly far-fetched idea about some Nigerian Prince / Oil Tycoon / Banker / Business Magnate wanting to transfer you some money, as this example shows:


My Dearest Friend,

I am MR. PAUL ARUNA, The chief auditor in bank of Africa (boa) Burkina Faso West African. One of our customers, with his entire family was among the victims of plane crash and before his death, he has an account with us valued at $27.2million us dollars(twenty-seven million two hundred thousand us dollars) in our bank and according to the Burkina Faso law, at the expiration of Ten years if nobody applies to claim the funds a grace of one year also will be given before the money will revert to the ownership of the Burkina Faso government.

My proposals is that i will like you as a foreigner to stand in as the next of kin or distant cousin for us to claim this money, so that the fruits of this old man’s labour will not get into the hands of some corrupt government officials who will later use the money to sponsor war in Africa and kill innocent citizens in the search for political power.

As a foreign partner which this money will be transfer into your account, you are entitle to 40% of the total money while 55% will be for me as the moderator of this transaction and 5% will be mapped out for any expenditure that may be incur during the course of this transaction. Please note that there will be no problem as my bank has made all effort through to reach for any of his relation but all was fruitless.

My position as the chief auditor in this bank guarantees the successful execution of this (deal) transaction.
Please send the following:
1) Your full name…..
2) Sex…..
3) Age…..
4) Country…..
5) Passport or photo…..
6) Occupation…..
7) Personal Mobile number…..
8) Personal fax number…..
9) Home & office address…..



This Paul Aruna seems like a mighty fine fellow indeed. But who in the world would fall for this hare-brained scheme? And why wouldn’t our enterprising Nigerian friends improve upon the believability of this story?

Cormac Herley of Microsoft Research investigated the problem and shared his research with Levitt and Dubner (Co-Authors, Think like a Freak).

The scammer essentially wants to identify the individual(s) who haven’t heard of the Nigerian scam. (That is why Nigeria is always the point of origination, nothing to do with the general integrity of our Nigerian friends)


“The scammer wants to find the guy who hasn’t heard of it…Anybody who doesn’t fall off their chair laughing is exactly who he wants to talk to.”


Why? Because it is by attracting the most gullible that these scammers have the greatest chance of success. It is a massive waste of time to attract people that have some semblance of common sense, only to have the scam unravel halfway when sensibility of the would-be victim kicks in.

In other words, they adopt a sniper’s approach: only investing time to woo people that are dim-witted enough to be lured in. Thus using an email that only the dumbest will fall for.

That makes perfect sense.


How do we link this to Street Canvassing?


Majority of us step out of a train station with no intention to be accosted. Much less accosted with the intent to buy insurance.

So why is this practice still surviving until today? (Not to mention its relative, the Road Show.)

This is our theory – the majority of us with no intention of buying insurance on the street would not stop. We deploy all sorts of manoeuvres, like a nifty side-step (think Lebron James) or even an about-turn when we sense an agent in the vicinity.


Do it like Lebron, and drive it hard to the right. No mercy


Who is left to respond favourably?


People that are kind-hearted enough to pause and examine the proposition. Either because they have not experienced it before, or they may have a genuine need at that particular moment in time. (not because they are gullible!)


I would argue that these are exactly the prospects that agents desire.

So the practice continues.

(Side note: Majority of us are actually under-insured, so if you do actually find yourself stopping, it may not be a bad thing after all.)


Share your thoughts with us


We are nothing, if not open-minded.

Did we hit the nail on the head? Or are we just horribly mistaken about the reason for these prospecting methods?

If nothing else, we hope this makes you smile the next time you receive a dubious email offer – or meet that enthusiastic canvasser outside Raffles place.

Till next time!


www.ClearlySurely.com aims to eradicate the knowledge gap between consumers and Life Insurance. Our Vision is that one day, every Man, Woman, and Child will be properly insured.

We’ve done our fair share of side-stepping and evasive manoeuvres in the past. But we’ve found the best way to handle unwanted attention on the streets is to simply say: “I read ClearlySurely.com”. Your path will be magically made clear. Try it today! 

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