The letter from the barrister’s wife

Ah, spam!

Don’t we just love it. Everybody gets to taste some when it does slip through our filters to find its way into our mailboxes before we dutifully delete it without as much as sparing another thought about its contents and origins.

It’s probably fair to say that most netizens today are savvy enough to recognise Australian bank account intrusion warnings, British lottery win notices, Chinese Rolex fakes, Nigerian surprise inheritances, Russian bride offers and little blue American pills for what they are: spam, phishing attempts, unsolicited mail. Nothing new, old hat.

Faux Nigerian Google page

We’ve all but forgotten that it’s our very own greed which invites conniving criminals and those who prey on our paranoia and our desire for quick ‘n easy monetary windfalls, sexual longevity with hot babes, eternal youth and beauty, and the quest for the perfect figure.

Our own technical advances allow mass-mailers and meat puppets to make it so efficient for crooks that even if only a fraction of a percent of recipients falls victim to the scam — well, then it was profitable and it was worth it. Luckily, spam filters have advanced to the point that these percentages are diminishing.

If you’ve been online for as long as I have then there’s little that surprises you anymore where this scourge is concerned. But a few weeks ago something managed to do exactly that: the old 419-scam arrived via snail mail!

Armed with a little envelope, a colleague (who shall remain anonymous) stepped into my office and showed off this very letter (PDF) that he had received on 22. March from one Mrs Kate K. Moroka, mailed to an address at which he has not resided for some ten years.

A letter from Kate K. Moroka

The sad tale and ludicrous business proposal in the letter itself is standard advance fee fraud fare which I won’t bore you with. Instead, let’s take a closer look at some of the other evidence presented within:

  • FROM: MRS KATE K. MOROKA

Why all in UPPERCASE, dear Kate? Is copy/paste easier that way? Does it make the letter look more urgent or official? A simple Google search reveals that Mrs Moroka’s name appears in connection with similar schemes as far back as 2006, using a variety of disposable email addresses (Hotmail and Yahoo are the ever popular ones) and usually in connection with “a ghastly plane crash”. If scammers are to be believed, my entire clan has already been decimated by aircraft disasters while other family members died during 9/11 and the Space Shuttle Columbia crash. No doubt there are missing bodies of wealthy and long-lost cousins being recovered from the Costa Concordia wreckage as we speak. Scammers are clearly in tune with current world events disasters.

  • EMAIL: kkmoroka@mail.kz

This time in lowercase and underlined (obviously a forgotten automatic hyperlink, probably written/printed with MS-Word), one is given to wonder why a South African would be using a Kazakh freemail service: “Mail.kz is a national free e-mail system provided by Management Information Systems – a branch of the JSC «Kazakhtelecom», which can be used with any computer that has access to the Internet. In order to become a user of the e-mail Mail.kz, you must register and enter the mailbox.

Oh, this so reeks of professional and honest conduct.

  • TELL: +255787628234.

What is a “TELL” and why is it shouting at me? It squawks at me — yes, it’s a telephone, and this is a telephone number from Tanzania. The number may not exist (I tried it) but at least they got the right continent.

In poor grammar (sometimes purposely so, may I add) our “Kate” then goes on to spin the story about how someone named Sone ███████ and his “entire family” perished in a “ghastly plane crash”. Inventive. What kind of a name is “Sone” anyway, and why did you pick this name to prefix the current batch of random victims’ surnames with? Yes, there’s evidence of others. Similar letters, posted from Tanzania in December 2011, were also received in the UK, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Canada, Aruba, Montenegro, and various states within the USA.

I hope there aren’t too many claimants, though. I’d hate to have to share my millions!

But there probably are a great many, and they’re keeping honest Kate so busy that she doesn’t politely request but, instead, wants me to “fax all your full contact details” to her husband’s fax numbers +278672488108 or +27865140721.

Now this is really puzzling: Wasn’t it her who had contacted me? Doesn’t she know who I am? Why shouldn’t I want to phone her, surely she knows that there’s just a one-hour time difference between our two countries? I would so much love to have a word with Kate instead of being referred to a free fax2email service but, as an alternative, she’s kind enough to suggest an SMS to her husband’s mobile number + 27 73561 8630.

That’s awfully nice of her. So I call her husband, the good barrister Andrew Moroka. He’s not a polite person. He answers the phone in his African accent, says “hello” and hangs up after a few seconds of confused silence. On two separate occasions.

Oh well, I guess that’s to be expected from a criminal using a disposable MTN prepaid card who only wants my money and not my conversation.

While none of the above would be particularly interesting to anyone who’s ever received and analysed a 419-email (SMTP headers aside), it’s the physical and haptic part of this item that has me thrilled: It’s a real, snail mail letter, one that arrived via airmail in a manila 220 x 110 mm “Kingstone Seal Easi DL Banker” envelope. They’re available all over South Africa.

BY AIRMAIL - PER LUGPOS - PAR AVION

These guys obviously get their office supplies in bulk but, unlike email, each envelope does cost a few real cents, as does the A4 sheet of paper it’s printed on, as does the laser printer it’s printed with (the cost of PC hardware would apply to email spammers as well), as does the postage itself: The letter is postmarked “2012 03 15” (a Thursday), and therefore postage of this very letter alone resulted in an investment of R6,30 = $0.80 US = 0.61€ for our hopeful scammers — unless they had access to reams of postage stamps beforehand.

Since they obviously don’t send one letter at a time, there’s a good couple of bucks that Kate & Co. need to lay down before their scam reaches enough foreign shores for the capital expenditure to even as much as hope to bear fruit. And that’s just material costs.

They still need to find or buy addresses to begin with (my colleague presumes his was harvested from eBay). Someone still has to type/copy/paste each prospective victim’s name into each letter and onto each envelope, load the printer, stuff each envelope (leaving fingerprints), and then take a drive to the post office where some poor sod needs to attach postage stamps (potentially leaving more DNA behind).

Oh yes, each letter contains enough forensic evidence that most of these operations could surely be shut down. Although, in this case, no crime was committed as such, it has been reported to the authorities.

Nor am I holding my breath.

What I am holding in my hand, though, is a genuine 419-letter from a stinking fraudster for my document library.

And I had a bit of fun analysing it. Thanks, mugu!

Photo credit: hmvh DOT net

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