The return of a classic scam

Tony Levene
by Lovemoney Staff Tony Levene on 28 January 2012  |  Comments 19 comments

One of the classic scams is back. It's so obviously a scam, Tony Levene is laughing.

The return of a classic scam

There are times when I don't know whether to laugh or cry. And there are times when I feel like a parody of a bit part player in an old Eastenders episode – going into the Queen Vic, shouting “Oh, my gawd. I don't believe it. Pull the other one. It can't be for real.” 

But, straight up, it was for real. And it arrived earlier this week. It came in a white window envelope, with a first class 46p stamp, addressed very formally through the window to me as Anthony Levene.

Who writes to me as Anthony other than the taxman and my bank? Even solicitors complaining that I have traduced their scammy clients call me Tony. 

What was this missive? readers may not credit this but the envelope contained the classic “Nigerian 419” letter. 

What goes around, comes around

Earlier this month, I was discussing scams with a police friend of mine. I told him that there were a number of rackets that I had not seen for quite a while. Among those was the Nigerian letter and the email which tells you that you have won a fantastic number of millions in a lottery which you have never entered, let alone even heard of.

Maybe he was wiser than me when he advised me “never, say never. What goes around, comes around.” And so it did. 

The heading of the letter itself started with number of Chinese characters, followed by a Hong Kong fax number and an email address. The signatory – a Mr McKay Xu – told me that he is a private investment manager involved with the estate of a William Levene.

William, Xu writes, died (on an unspecified date but apparently between 2002 and 2008) in a hiking accident in mainland China (that's a big place but there are no further details). 

In 1997, before his death, William went to Xu to ask him to ask as an investment manager for his $17.5m. This money was transfered in cash in 2002 to mainland China for an urgent business venture. But poor William went hiking and died, without leaving a will. 

So as I share the same surname, Xu concludes that I must be the nearest to a next of kin. The letter has some spelling mistakes but the basic message is that Xu will share the money with me equally if I help him deal with a “specialist bank”. Xu is peeved William is dead as “he still owes me my percentage for service and naturally I deserve to have that money but cannot do it alone. So I need your help.” 

There are at least four William Levenes in the UK and two companies with that or similar names. But if my surname had been Jones, then the letter would have cited a William Jones. 


Why do I find all this rather funny? Firstly the mock serious English - “it would be legally confirmed as I am working with my local solicitor on this deal tomake sure all legal aspects are covered.” Then there is the threat that if I don't go along with this, “the funds will revert back to the state where is may be shared by state officials for their personal use and enrichment”. Imagine, officials scamming the estate of poor William. 

I can't believe that anyone still falls for this scam – named after the section in the Nigerian criminal code which outlaws the practice – although it is possible. But it is also hilarious that some poor guy has spent money on printing and posting all these letters. He must have paid out for loads of envelopes, paper and countless 46p stamps. 

I wonder who is behind all this. It is obviously a false name – no one is going to use real details. It may well not be someone in Hong Kong at all. But whoever it is has got to be pretty stupid. Does anyone think I am going to hand over 50%. No way! I want at least 90%!!! 

So I shall email Xu to tell him that I shall talk to him but only on the condition that I take the bigger cut. He'll probably agree – after all there is no money and he just wants me to keep paying $10,000 here and $20,000 there until I go broke. But I also intend to ask him to send $10,000 in cash to prove he is who he says. He won't like that!

More:  The scam promising $720 a day for 7 mins work | How to work from home

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Comments (19)

  • electricblue
    Love rating 785
    electricblue said

    The scam never went away, therefore it has not returned and this is a non-story. There may have been times when your email filters got on top of certain notorious IP addresses and the usual stuff missed your in-box, but these email and postal scams have endured.

    Report on 28 January 2012  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • g0nqk
    Love rating 11
    g0nqk said

    I have had this one too and I was surprised that it arrived in the post with a stamp on. I have always believed that the best way to stop spam would be to charge a small fee for emails, just a penny or so, not enough to put genuine users off sending them. At present fraudsters can send out a million emails for free. The, no doubt minimal, response that they get is almost pure profit, but if those million emails were a penny each and cost £10,000 they would think again. This posted scam has rather put a question mark over my theory, but perhaps the guy that sent it has just missed the point!

    Report on 28 January 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • culluding-fool
    Love rating 65
    culluding-fool said

    I get a constant flow of these emails. I wonder where this one got names & addresses from. Foreign call centres? I only use local, within uk, even if it costs a little more

    Report on 28 January 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • jocork
    Love rating 6
    jocork said

    I too get loads of these e-mails and what particularly annoys me is that they usually mention that the deceased shares my surname while failing to address me by it. When I have time on my hands I entertain myself by sending replies with false details to waste their time thinking they've landed a sucker!

    Report on 28 January 2012  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • The Bank Manager
    Love rating 79
    The Bank Manager said

    Chuffed to say I've never had one of these as an e-mail and the last letter like this arrived about 2 years ago.

    Glad I'm off their radar, but my surname is neither unusual nor rare, so they must be thick....yep - they are!

    Report on 28 January 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Talent
    Love rating 79
    Talent said

    So what is your name, The Bank Manager.... ;-))

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  • elcadobes
    Love rating 10
    elcadobes said

    I have had five of these letters over the last two years. The most recent was a couple of months ago. I am inundated with various scams by email and telephone and I must admit I thought this one was a bit different from the usual run of the mill and wondered if they would be more succesful by actually purchasing a stamp, envelopes and paper. Not to mention actually tailoring it to my surname which most emails don't bother to do.

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  • jennyhunt
    Love rating 3
    jennyhunt said

    The problem is it's not us that get stung by these scams.

    I was visiting my 87 year old grandmother just this morning and a friend of hers, of a similar age, popped round. While having a cup of tea he leant over to me and whipered that he'd won £20,000. Apparantly he'd received a letter that morning from a company in Belgium. He was really excited about it too.

    I did try to tell him to be careful as, lets face it, you don't get random letters telling you you've won £20,000 through the door, but he seemed convinced that it was all legitimate.

    As I write this I am wondering if there is anything more I should do. I do not know this man other than meeting him a couple of times while visiting my grandmother, I did warn him to be careful, but I don't think he paid me any heed whatsoever. Do I just leave him to these sharks, or do i contact someone in authority without having any real information.

    We may laugh at the gullible people who fall for these scams, however we must remember that there are vunerable people out there who have their lives ruined by these scammers!

    Report on 28 January 2012  |  Love thisLove  3 loves
  • oldhenry
    Love rating 350
    oldhenry said

    There is one born every minute and the saying is that a fool and his money are soon parted. That is what makes scams work and they always have since money was invented, probably before that too. Modern technology has made them profiferate considerably however.

    As for that goon thinking he had won £2K , well he needs locking up but no doubt Social Services have more pressing cases to see to than someone that is deluded.

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  • croconoll
    Love rating 1
    croconoll said

    I have seen a few scams, and have tackled them in a different way,.Well I was told that a man was in London and was there to meet me with for 4 million pounds, but could not get to me because he did not have enough left to get to me so could i send him £600 cash, as this would help him out, so i ignored him, two days later he wrote again saying he had to return so could i pay £900 to get the release of this money so I wrote back and said look I have not got any money at the moment so could you pay it on my behalf and send the money to me and when it has gone though I will give you half of the money for your self.

    I thought that was a really good offer.

    But I did not know why but for some unknown reason he never came back to

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  • johnmxn3
    Love rating 17
    johnmxn3 said

    Let us have some respect for age. The old gentleman of a similar age to the grandmother, 87 years, may not be well enough to see it as a scam. It is easy to con the old and vulnerable. He is not a goon, and the amount mentioned was £20,000 not £2,000.

    Perhaps Social Services for the Elderly could have been involved by taking him and his letter to the local CID office where they would have helped him. I did this several times in the course of my work.

    It is easy to be scornful of those who do not always have the knowledge that many people on this site possess. I would go further and say if it were not for Mr Levene and his articles, more people would have fallen for scams. Thank you Tony.

    Report on 28 January 2012  |  Love thisLove  2 loves
  • electricblue
    Love rating 785
    electricblue said

    Social Services could not possibly be interested in delusional people or your ramblings would have had you locked up years ago, Oldhenry.

    Report on 28 January 2012  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • Adnest
    Love rating 0
    Adnest said

    Whilst it is true that many scam emails have been sent by some Nigerian crooks, it would be wrong to assume that every such mails originated from Nigerians. The victims responding to such mails who eventually ended up being victims of such scams cannot be said to be entirely innocent. The scammers are only as successful to the extent their victims are greed driven. May be we all need to learn contentment and be grateful for what we have. "He that maketh haste be rich shall not be innocent" Proverbs 28:20

    Report on 29 January 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Kaz64
    Love rating 23
    Kaz64 said

    oldhenry, I think your post is most disrespectful to the elderly! It could just as easily be a relative of yours who is caught out. The elderly came from a time when they could leave their doors unlocked and pop to the shops. A time when people looked out for one another, not step over them if they were having a heart attack in the street! They don't realise what a nasty place we now live in, and take everyone at face value.

    Some day you will be elderly too, and quite frankly, it's going to be an even worse place to live by then. Personally, the thought of my own old age frightens me.

    Report on 29 January 2012  |  Love thisLove  4 loves
  • UpHillAllTheWay
    Love rating 38
    UpHillAllTheWay said

    "with a first class 46p stamp"

    A British one? They don't use 'p' in Hong Kong!

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  • jilly duck
    Love rating 6
    jilly duck said

    old henry, it is perfectly possible to make your point in a pleasant and respectful way. I am sure that I am not alone in finding comments like yours detract from the main thrust of the debate and appear to be used to turn the floor over to you.

    I work with vulnerable adults with learning difficulties, many of whom are living independantly in the Community who could easily be financially abused by these people. I am sure that everyone knows someone who is equally vulnerable of any age you care to mention. It would be more constructive to aim your rather offensive remarks at the scammers who deserve them

    Report on 30 January 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • jilly duck
    Love rating 6
    jilly duck said

    adnest, people are not always greed driven. Many people are need driven and desperation and false hope are strong motivators for taking gambles they would not normally consider. Would you then agree that everyone who buys a lottery ticket is greed driven or could you accept that some people could be hoping against hope that they could gain finacial salvation and, for instance, not lose their home and family because they no longer have a job? Everyone knows the astronomical odds against winning but that does not deter millions of people from buying a ticket each week. Not all of these people are greedy - some are needy.

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  • ludditetolpuddle
    Love rating 7
    ludditetolpuddle said

    What an amateurish scam! Now the 1992 "Prime Bank Note" scam, there WAS a scam! Took in everyone from merchant banks to the Salvation Army.

    Report on 31 January 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • salik119
    Love rating 0
    salik119 said

    I came across your excellent blog while researching Dalian Bank. I have recently received an almost identical letter, the only real difference being the name. Hiking accident, remote China, sick granddaughter, mortgaging the family rice paddy to pay the solicitor's fees - the whole nine yards. There is a phone number in Hong Kong, and it looks so plausible. The scammer, a Mr Tim Lee by name, must be using international call forwarding from Hong Kong, because checking the e-mail headers shows that he's actually sending them from Lagos, Nigeria (!). He has evidently missed a calling as a writer of imaginative fiction, but is quite naive technologically. It will be interesting to see where things go from here.


    Report on 02 January 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves

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