Dear Scammers: Check Your Fax Number

The letter, received by fax last week, read like countless others before it. “ATTENTION: Director/CEO,” it began. “I write, asking for your indulgence in re-profiling funds to the tune of Twelve Million, Eight Hundred Thousand United States Dollars (US$12.8m) which we want to keep safely overseas under your supervision.”

The letter’s author, “Mr. John William,” explained he was a project director at the Department of Minerals & Energy in Pretoria, South Africa, and that the money was surplus funds from a project his department had overseen. He was hoping the letter’s recipient could help him hide the money overseas – and as compensation was offering to hand over 22.2 percent of the riches.

The letter was a version of the advance-fee confidence trick, also sometimes referred to as the Nigerian scam, named after the country where many such letters originate. If the letter’s addressee had called the international number listed on the fax, the recipient would have surely been told the loot would be theirs, just as soon as a relatively small sum of money had been advanced to grease this or that wheel. Once that money was handed over, however, everyone involved with the operation – and all hope of payola – would disappear. Phony letters like this have been e-mailed, faxed and mailed to people all over world, and have netted scammers millions and millions of dollars.

This particular letter, however, won’t be earning its authors any dough. After all, it was sent to the fax machine at the Economic Crime Unit in the Denver District Attorney’s Office. “Investigator Daniel Chun invited me to split the profits with him, but I haven’t had time to follow up yet,” says DA spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough with a laugh. “In reality, our best advice on those is normally to delete them from your e-mail or throw the faxes in the trash. People can also forward them to the FBI.”

And that’s the fax. – Joel Warner

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner