A couple of years ago, I was on the receiving end of one of the Web's classic scam spams: the ever-popular World Currency Cartel shtick, which, on the face of it, claimed that some cabal was making a fortune off minor variations in currency float, and would share their secret for some small sum. Of course, it turned out to be nothing like that at all, and I posted my findings, and a lot of other people's, in this very space. Similar scammage goes on all the time.

Then this came in, from one <ahmed_alshariff@yahoo.com>. I was automatically suspicious, but I hadn't found any "yes, this is a scam" corroboration. Yet. Read it for yourself:

Dr. Ahmed Al-Shariff
London, U.K
Date: 29, July 2000.
 

URGENT BUSINESS PROPOSAL

 
The Director Sir,
 
I am diplomat of the Sultanate of Oman stationed in the United Kingdom I write on behalf of myself, and that of some of my colleagues who were members of a committee appointed by the government of the Sultanate of Oman to award contracts and to approve such contract payments in the ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources.
 
The duties of the committee also included evaluation, and monitoring of work done by foreign contractors in the ministry. Between 1998 and 1999, this committee awarded contracts of $461.5m(four hundred and sixty-one million, five hundred thousand united states dollars) to various contractors for engineering, procurement, construction, computer installation, computer optimisation, supply of various industrial chemicals, mechanical items and turn around maintainance.
 
However, this total amount for the contracts was over-invoiced, thereby, leaving the sum of US$61.5million dollars in excess. This was done with the intention that the committee will share the excess when the payments are approved. The government of the Sultanate of Oman has since approved the sum of $461.5m dollars as the total contract sum. Already, the sum of $400m dollars have been paid out to the companies and contractors concerned which executed the contracts, leaving the balance of $61.5m dollars.
 
It is our intention to transfer this $61.5m dollars abroad, into a safe and reliable account to be shared amongst ourselves. This is because as government officials, there is no way we can claim this money in Oman without drawing attention and penalty to ourselves. My colleagues and I have agreed that if you will assist us by acting as the beneficiary of these funds, we are prepared to give you 20% of the total sum that will be transferred, 10% will be for expenses incurred and we will take 70%.
 
Therefore, we need a reliable and trust-worthy person with a reliable account to transfer this money into. Hence, this request for your assistance. Please be informed that the personalities involved in this deal are top and influential government functionaries who would not like any form of exposure, and as such, would want you to keep this proposal as top secret, and confidential.
 
Let me say here that we decided to do the over-invoicing in preference to demanding or accepting bribes and kickbacks from foreign contractors. Now that the contract has been approved for payment, all we need is somebody to facilitate the transfer of these excess funds in his account as a beneficiary. We have already taken adequate measures to see that all necessary regulations and obligations in Oman were complied with.
 
Be assured that this transction is a profitable one and there is no risk involved whatsoever to your person. Therefore, if you are interested in this proposal, please contact me immediately for further discussion on how to progress as time is of the utmost importance.
 
Thanks for your anticipated co-operation.
 
Yours sincerely,
Ahmed Al-Shariff (Dr.)
 
IF INTERSTED REPLY ONLY THROUGH FAX
TO: +44-870-122-5857

Now I've never done any money-laundering, unless you count the two bucks I left in my pants pocket that one time, and that was a pretty negative experience — minus $2, anyway — so this isn't something I'd want to do anyway. But even apart from that, there was something disquieting about this letter, so I decided to check its papers, so to speak.

First I looked at the good Doctor's Yahoo! profile, since he gives a Yahoo! email address. And it turns out he's not in the member directory. Nor did he mail this from Yahoo!, either; this mail appears to have originated at 216.226.210.54, which is [host-216-226-210-54.interpacket.net], InterPacket being a large satellite-delivered ISP. Email to <ahmed_alshariff@yahoo.com>, the address he gave, quickly bounced. And then I pulled up Embassy World [now defunct] to see just what kind of operation the Sultanate of Oman maintains in Great Britain. If they're to be believed, it's not enough to mention.

One thing is true: the country code for the United Kingdom is, in fact, 44. "870", though, didn't look like any British area code I'd seen before, so I poked around a bit at Her Majesty's Government's Office of Telecommunications, and discovered that numbers starting with (0)8 "...shall be used exclusively for services charged at special rates. The cost of calls to services in this category may be paid by the called party (eg freephone), shared between the caller and the called party (eg local tariff) or paid wholly by the caller (national tariff). " Freephones — similar to North American 800/877/888 — start with 80; local-tariff numbers start with 84; national-tariff numbers start with 87. So, in effect, our faux-Omani diplomat wants me to send a fax to what in the US would be a 900 or local 976 number, charged at God knows what rate, and billed (of course) to me.

I have to admit, it's ingenious. You send a fax to this guy, and he gets whatever revenue from the phone call. You get no response, and email doesn't work, so what do you do? You fax him again, and he gets more revenue. He wins; you lose, and you probably blame it on the Sultanate of Oman, which had nothing whatever to do with this tawdry little scheme, so he wins again. Anyway, that's the end of my research — it seems pointless to track down the details when the infrastructure is so obviously bogus — but I think it's safe to say that this is a scam. Please feel free to pass this URL to anyone who gets this same letter, and if you've already gotten it, let me know what you thought about it.

The Vent

#207
1 August 2000

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