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May 6, 2007

Giving 419s an Iraqi Flavor

Gelf recently received an email from a Major Ralph Harland of the UN peacekeeping force in Iraq asking for assistance in the transfer of funds across international borders. This was a bit suspicious, because Gelf is unacquainted with such an individual. We're also pretty sure—unless some secretive accord was recently struck—that there is no UN peacekeeping force in Iraq.

So, what's going on here? Obviously, it's a 419 scam. The 419, or Nigerian advance fee scam, is a modern take on one of the oldest cons around. Similar letters have been discovered dating back a century, often involving a Russian businessman imprisoned in Spain. (A variant of the con was used in the labyrinthine plot of David Mamet's aptly titled The Spanish Prisoner.) More recently, scammers have turned to email, constructing schemes involving shady African business deals or sham lotteries.

Or the war in Iraq. Who wouldn't want to help out one of our brave men in uniform? Who wouldn't want to get in on Iraq's potentially lucrative (operative word: "potentially") oil market? Our current favorites include a letter from "Miss Marah Sadija, former mistress to the son (Qusay) of the Iraqi former leader, Saddam Hussein," and one from Colonel Steve Moore, who needs our help smuggling funds back into the states as he is currently being detained for his participation in the abuse at Abu Ghraib.

Then there's the letter from President Bush himself, who "CAME TO KNOW OF YOU IN MY SEARCH FOR A RELIABLE AND REPUTABLE PERSON TO HANDLE A VERY CONFIDENTIAL BUSINESS TRANSACTION." Though we'd hardly be surprised if the President does, in fact, write all his e-mail in caps (while saying things like "IN THE DECADE OF THE NINETEEN-EIGHTIES," or referring to Kuwait as "A WHOLLY-OWNED U.S.-BRITISH SUBSIDIARY"), we're reasonably certain that if the POTUS ever needed to surreptitiously move billions of dollars around, he wouldn't need any of us to help him.

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