Posted by: soniahs | June 20, 2011

Interesting strategy for a phishing scam

Apparently, phishing scammers are branching out. I’ve seen an uptick in phishing spam in the last few months to my university e-mail account. Generally, these spammers claim to be Nigerian or British or children of noble-yet-cruelly-treated-by-the-new-military-government African public servants, who just happen to need to quickly transfer Dad’s (or Mom’s) hard-earned cash out of the country. The usual story.

This most recent e-mail might be clever- if not for the lack of attention to idiomatic and stylistic details. This scammer is claiming to be a US officer in Iraq, who needs to transfer (completely legally!) millions of dollars:

Good day and compliments, I know this letter will definitely come to you as a huge surprise, but I implore you to take the time to go through it carefully as the decision you make will go off a long way to determine my future and continued existence.

Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Sgt. Cole Andrew, a US Marine Sgt. Serving in the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment that Patrols the Anbar province, Iraq. I am desperately in need of assistance and I have summoned up courage to contact you. I am presently in Iraq and I found your contact particulars in an address journal.

I am seeking your assistance to evacuate the sum of Two Million Nine Hundred Thousand US Dollars (2,900 USD) to the States or any safe country, as far as I can be assured that it will be safe in your care until I complete my service here. This is no stolen money and there are no dangers involved.

Note the implication in the first paragraph that the reader’s attention is crucial for the safety and security of the author. Whatever you do, don’t stop reading! The next paragraph attempts to build up the author’s ethos by drawing upon the regard most Americans have for members of our armed services. I haven’t checked whether there is a 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, or whether they are stationed in Anbar Provence, but that would be easy enough to do. I’m also not sure what an “address journal” is, but I suspect what is meant here is “university address book which I used to send out a massive spam attempt.” Perhaps the use of wording like “implore,” “particulars,” and “Good day and complements” would be explainable if this supposed individual was a foreign national serving in the Marines, but the idiom is hardly American.

Next, the scammer explains where the money comes from, in an effort to assure the reader that it is certainly not stolen money (oh my, no, whyever would you suspect that?):


Some money in various currencies was discovered and concealed in barrels with piles of weapons and ammunition at a location near one of Saddam Hussein’s old
Presidential Palaces during a rescue operation and it was agreed by all party present that the money be shared amongst us over the years, but now that and was kept in courier security vault for safe keeping.

Click Copy this link to get the full story:*****.stm (I removed the full link location info so no one would be tempted to click on it.)

It’s hard to parse the grammatical sloppiness of the latter part of this sentence, but perhaps “Sgt Andrew” is writing this in stressful combat conditions. More important is the invocation of Saddam Hussein- an attempt at pathos: many people would certainly welcome the attempt to get back at the dictator by helping a brave soldier take money away from him. We might argue that Hussein is already dead, so taking his money is equivalent to taking money from the new Iraqi government-and by extension the Iraqi people- but the next line tries to quash that line of thinking with another appeal to emotion:

This might appear as an illegal thing to do but I tell you what? No compensation can make up for the risks we have taken with our lives in this hell hole in Iraq which you are fully aware.

The author here presumes that the reader is an American, and one who sympathizes with the experiences of the troops sent to Iraq. Probably not a bad assumption in general, but my university does have quite a few foreign members, for whom this tactic might not be as effective.

Next, the author attempts to create a rational argument as to why, now that the US is largely leaving Iraq, “Sgt Andrew” needs to move this money, and why he is contacting the reader. An argument of logos (the grammar deteriorates here, though, harming the effectiveness of this argument):

The above figure was given to me as my share and to conceal this kind of money became a problem for me, so with the help of a British contact working with the UN here (his office enjoys some immunity)

What does the British contact enjoy immunity from? Are we meant to see this statement and interpret it as an assumption that we have some specialized knowledge about the legalities of moving stolen currency out of war zones into foreign bank accounts? Or does it just sound impressive?

I was able to get the package out to a safe location entirely out of trouble spot. He does not know the real contents of the package as he believes that it belongs to an American who died in an air raid, who before giving up trusted me to hand over the package to his close relative. I have now found a secured way of getting the package out of Iraq for you to pick up. I do not know for how long I will remain here, as I have been lucky to survive 2 suicide bomb attacks by Pure Divine intervention.

I am not sure if US $2.9 million can fit into an easily-carried package, but the author clearly assumes I think this is plausible. Note also the reiteration of immediate personal danger to “Sgt Andrew,” which underscores the need to contact him swiftly.

Here, we end with a few grammatical inconsistencies, as well as some more choices of terminology which an American would probably not use:

This and other reasons put into consideration have prompted me to reach out for help. If it might be of interest to you then Endeavour to contact me and we would work out the necessary formalities but I pray that you are discreet about this mutually benefiting relationship.

Sgt. Cole Andrew
United States Marine Corps. IRAQ

So, this seems to be a new slant on phishing attempts. I’ve been trying to pin down why it pissed me off enough that I’d spend some time writing this post. My main objection to it is probably pragmatic. I am concerned that that this angle actually might be effective, if this type of scam is targeted toward American teens- at least more effective that the more usual “my father was a brave government official” scam. It seems to open up a potential different subset of scam victims.

Morally, is it more wrong to adopt the persona of a US soldier in order to scam Americans than to pretend to be the daughter of a foreign official? I don’t know. Members of the military put their lives on the line to defend other members of their country (leaving aside the question of whether the Iraq war in particular was morally justifiable), so they should be accorded respect in society based upon that service, but is this scam taking advantage of soldiers, or our feelings about soldiers? I think it’s the latter, so I can’t say it’s a more unethical phishing attempt than usual. But it still pissed me off.


  1. Check out my exchange with “Sgt. Andrew.”


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