Email scammers tout assets of deposed Arab leaders

Scam emails supposedly from close aides or relatives of deposed Arab leaders are offering a huge chunk of their assets if recipients hand over their bank details or pay a fee up front.

"The quantity of attacks of this sort that we detect is enormous," said Chester Wisniewski, a senior security adviser at Sophos, which uses sophisticated spam filters to identify scam emails.

In one email, a scammer pretends to be the wife of deposed Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi. She says she has managed to escape to Tunisia and is desperately looking for a "reliable partner" to transfer $25 million of Qadhafi's funds.

"I am very sick of these wars. People are dying every day.

"I am offering 35% and you will also help me invest 65% of my share into any lucrative business in your country … but if not please keep it safe for me until everything goes quiet," the email reads.

One internet con is called advance-fee fraud or the 419 Scam, after an article in the Criminal Code in Nigeria where the trick originated. It often works by promising recipients huge sums of money on the condition that an advance fee is paid.

Other emails try to inveigle full bank details out of recipients, supposedly so funds can be transferred into the account. Often the scammers drain the account of money.

"The 'story' of a deposed ruler trying to get money out of the country sounds very plausible and in addition it relates to current events which gives it more credit," said Avi Turiel, who works at Internet Security company Commtouch.

"It allows the scammers to say something new – as opposed to the traditional scams which people might be familiar with."

Common ruses include pretending to be a businessman who needs to transfer large sums because they are being audited by the government or bank employees who need a proxy to transfer funds.

Feeding off news

After Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned from office in early February, the scammers pretended to be members of Mubarak's family, his accountant and family lawyers.

An email from a fraudster pretending to be Mubarak's wife, Suzanne, appealed to recipients' conscience.

She had "been thrown into a state of antagonism, confusion, humiliation, frustration and hopelessness by the present military leadership of the Egyptian Liberation Organization … As a woman that is so traumatized, I have lost confidence with everybody in the country at the moment."

The phony Suzanne Mubarak writes that she is looking for foreign assistance to entrust over a million dollars as "the Muslim community has no regards for women."

After Qadhafi went into hiding, a surge of similar scam emails appeared. They purport to come from members of the Qadhafi family who are trying to move money out of the country.

"We've certainly been seeing a lot of these (for want of a better word) Arab Spring 419 scams since things kicked off over there," Graham Cluley, who writes for the Sophos 'Naked Security' blog.

"Of course, most people … wouldn't fall for a scam like this but there are vulnerable people out there who have lost large amounts of money because they have been duped by a scam email."

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