The oldest scam in the book
Tony Levene outlines his latest experience with one of the longest lasting scams - the Nigerian 419 scam.
I never cease to be amazed by the sheer nerve and effrontery of those who try to separate me from my money. There's the boldness of the approach, the always ready answer to any question, and – at the top of my amazement list - the wonderful mix of fact and fiction that characterises most approaches.
For example, back in the mid 1980s I wrote about a company named Yesterday's News whose shares were being pushed by an illegal boiler room in Amsterdam. This company claimed to sell cat litter made out of recycled newspapers. That there is a market for cat litter, and recycling old newspapers makes sense are both facts. The fiction was Yesterday's News – it only existed on paper (no joke intended) and the shares which were sold at $10 each on the usual promise of “doubling or trebling your money in three to six months” were worthless.
But this week's scam is as noteworthy for the way in which it came to my attention as for its guaranteed 100% fiction content – there is simply not a word of truth in it.
Around this time last year, I added some comments to a story on the online version of The Jewish Chronicle. To do this (as with many sites), I had to register with an email address. Since then, I have not used that facility again – to be truthful, I forgot all about it.
This week, I received an email from the paper saying I had a “private email” in its system from “lenahelene”. I thought it was someone belatedly praising or condemning my views – this can happen even a year later.
But no. It was a classic Nigerian 419 letter – one of the longest lasting scams, dating back in one form or another some hundreds of years.
And this scam does not have a single word of truth among the lies.
The author claims to be Helene Lena Pfeifer, the widow of Patrick Pfeifer who worked for Elf Oil and, conveniently, died exactly 10 years ago in an air crash.
So far, so nonsensical. Helene then says – and this will not impress a Jewish Chronicle audience – that she and Patrick were “dedicated Christians”. Now Patrick left a safe deposit box with $5.6m in it (a small sum by Nigerian letter standards) which hause wants distributed to – amongst other causes - “motherless babies” and “widows propagating” (whatever that means).
Helene can do nothing to recover the money because, conveniently, she is in hospital with terminal cancer. So, now she is on “a count-down”, she urges no delay. If I respond quickly, she will give me the key to the deposit box so I can use the cash for charitable purposes.
Of course, there is no box, there is no money, just as there is no Helene.
And yes, you would have to be daft to believe any of this.
But someone will fall for this – or something similar.
They will then be asked to send $10,000 to “start the legal process”, followed by more and more until the victim either gives up or goes bankrupt. This is not funny.
By coincidence, last week I found a copy of “Greetings in Jesus Name – the Scambaiter Letters” where author Mike Berry of 419eater.com website details his adventures in the strange world of Nigerian (actually, they can be any nationality) scamsters. This is very funny.