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It is where places like the Net Express cyber cafe thrive. until 7 a.m., so the cyber thieves can work in peace without fear of armed intruders.The atmosphere of silent concentration inside the cafe is absolute, strangely reminiscent of a university library before exams. In this sanctum, Samuel says, he extracted thousands of American e-mail addresses, sent off thousands of fraudulent letters, and waited for replies.He thinks disclosure of his surname could endanger his safety.

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They rationalize the crime by telling themselves there are no real victims: Maghas are avaricious and complicit.

To them, the scams, called 419 after the Nigerian statute against fraud, are a game.

Their anthem, "I Go Chop Your Dollars," hugely popular in Lagos, hit the airwaves a few months ago as a CD penned by an artist called Osofia: "419 is just a game, you are the losers, we are the winners.

White people are greedy, I can say they are greedy White men, I will eat your dollars, will take your money and disappear.

ONLINE: Nigerians use computers in an Internet cafe in Lagos.

Scams known as 419 — for the statute outlawing them — promise the victims riches and romance.

“When you get a reply, it’s 70% sure that you’ll get the money,” a former scammer says.

(Sunday Alamba / AP) FESTAC, Nigeria — As patient as fishermen, the young men toil day and night, trawling for replies to the e-mails they shoot to strangers half a world away. But the few who actually reply make this a tempting and lucrative business for the boys of Festac, a neighborhood of Lagos at the center of the cyber-scam universe.

Most recipients hit delete, delete, delete, delete without ever opening the messages that urge them to claim the untold riches of a long-lost deceased second cousin, and the messages that offer millions of dollars to help smuggle loot stolen by a corrupt Nigerian official into a U. The targets are called maghas — scammer slang from a Yoruba word meaning fool, and refers to gullible white people.

Samuel is 19, handsome, bright, well-dressed and ambitious. Until he quit the game last year, he was one of Festac's best-known cyber-scam champions.

Like nearly everyone here, he is desperate to escape the run-down, teeming streets, the grimy buildings, the broken refrigerators stacked outside, the strings of wet washing.