Check your email. There is a Syrian banker who really needs your help.
My apologies writing you a surprise letter, My name is Mr. Anbouba issam from Damascus Syria.”
In other words, there is a new online scam in town, and it’s pretty shameless. Written in the usual impeccable English grammar of online scams, with creative spelling and innovative capitalizations, a former Syrian “bank director” asks you to help him with some of his assets that had been frozen in a “foreign land.” He later clarifies that this “foreign land” is the United Kingdom and, um, “Asia.”
And then comes the only remotely grammatically correct sentence in the email (so probably copy-pasted from another source), which also, ironically, condemns “Mr. Anbouba issam’s” government: “The European Union imposed sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime after it violently suppressed anti-government protests killing thousands of innocent people.” At least he’s owning up to it.
Syria has been ravaged by civil war since 2011 after the country’s President Bashar Assad indeed “violently suppressed anti-government protests.” The estimated death toll in February was at least 140,000 and the conflict has caused a massive humanitarian crisis in the region, with refugee camps overflowing and militants spreading into neighboring countries. The international community condemned the Assad regime for using chemical weapons on civilians and imposed multiple sanctions on the government.
“Mr. Anbouba issam’s” plea for “urgent action” is the newest iteration of the infamous “Nigerian scam” — also called the “419 scam” for the fraud section of the country’s criminal code — where a purported government official or “prince” offers millions to their “partner” (prey) for help with transferring funds out of the country. The practice actually dates back before the Internet era with the first “Nigerian scams” being sent out by snail mail and fax.
The fraudulent Syrian email also isn’t the first to be shamelessly leeching off a war zone. In the early days of the Afghanistan war, American Special Forces soldier “Bradon Curtis” wanted your help with moving a suitcase full of $36 million of terrorist drug cash out of Afghanistan.
During the Iraq war, in turn, “Sgt. Jennifer L—” found an astonishing amount of cash that belonged to Saddam Hussein’s family.” Sgt. Jennifer was “being attacked by insurgents everyday and car bombs,” so it would be very kind of you to help her to move the cash out of the country. “No strings attached,” naturally.
At least the Afghanistan and Iraq scammers tried to appeal to their recipients’ patriotism. “Mr. Anbouda issam’s” tactics are unclear, to say the least.
Hanna Kozlowska is a fellow at Foreign Policy. She previously worked as a researcher and freelance contributor for The New York Times in Poland, and as the associate editor for Poland Today, an English-language magazine.
© 2014, Foreign Policy