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419ers offer Russian oil fortune

As email fraudsters exploit US mining disaster

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Advance-fee fraudsters are attempting to dupe computer users into thinking they are in line to receive money from a jailed Russian oil tycoon via an aggressive new spam campaign.

The spam email poses as a message from the personal secretary of billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky and offers recipients a cool $8m providing they'll "help transfer" around $40m of Khodorkovsky's fortune. Khodorkovsky, the former CEO of Russian oil firm Yukos, is serving an eight-year jail sentence for tax and fraud offences.

UK-based security firm Sophos warns that the scam emails might be used as a ploy to entice users into handing over details of their bank accounts as a prelude to possible identity fraud, as well as stringing people along in a attempt to get get to hand over bogus advance fees for money that never materialises.

"Originally we saw the scammers sending their messages about Khodorkovsky in Russian, but now they are spreading their wings and sending their scam emails all around the world in English," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "The notoriety of the case against the Yukos CEO has made his fame a prime target for exploitation by internet criminals."

The email con-trick is the latest of many 419 scams. While such frauds remain common, let's not forget less elaborate frauds are also in circulation. Last week pond-dwelling scumbags crafted a scam that exploited sympathy over the recent mining accident in Sago, West Virginia to bilk sympathetic marks for money. These centred on fraudulent emails purporting to be from a doctor treating Randal McCloy, the sole survivor of the incident. The email describes the condition of the survivor and the amount of money that is needed for a full recovery in an attempt to get people to hand over their readies.

The message reads in part: "We need your generous financial assistance to our beloved citizen, brother and friend Mr. Randal McCloy to enable him to undergo all the surgical operations and medical treatments that will cost several millions of dollars in saving his life and bringing him to his normal state of life."

Once again, where tragedy strikes, scammers and virus writers are not far behind. The FBI Pittsburgh is investigating the scam, working with other law enforcement and private industry partners to identify the people responsible for the despicable ruse which, based on past form, doesn't come as too much of a surprise. Previous email scams have been themed around the Tsunami disaster in Asia of December 2004 and, more recently, Hurricane Katrina and terrorist bombings in London.

In a statement on the latest scam, the FBI said: "Computer users are strongly urged not to open or respond to unsolicited emails of any kind. Furthermore, emails requesting personal information or soliciting funds should be thoroughly verified for their legitimacy before responding." ®

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