Recently, a MainStreet editor received one of those email scams from a desperate finance guy looking for help transferring millions of dollars to an overseas account.  It came from a potentially generous alleged foreigner we call Mr. S. J. We’ve decided that in the interest of financial journalism (and a bit of fun) we would respond to our would-be benefactor using the pseudonym “MainStreet Mark.” It is our hope that these emails will better inform the public as to how these scams generally proceed, though we advise anyone receiving one of these emails to dump it immediately, and under no circumstances should you engage the sender in any type of communication. Got it? No circumstances.

If you haven't already, catch up with past correspondence with Mr. S. J.

In our last message to Mr. S. J. we indicated our willingness to help, though we did ask a few questions. His response came in the form of three rapid-fire emails, received on a recent Thursday at 5:56 p.m., 5:57 p.m. and 6 p.m.. These emails, which can be read in their entirety, were long and rambling. It actually seems like they may have been written by three different people, which makes us wonder if we aren’t dealing with a whole team of scammers.

There’s also quite a bit of contradiction, particularly with regard to the legality of the endeavor, or lack thereof. In the 5:57 p.m. letter he warns, “Contravening the laws is tantamount to serious penalty, so while I brave the venture, I will have to still watch my back.” Yet, in the 6 p.m. letter he writes, “I have to assure you that everything will be legally done and it remains like that.”

All three letters were full of the predictable assurances of his sincerity, though none provided answers to any of our earlier questions. He did, however, want a copy of my passport, among other things. When we didn’t respond for a couple of days (we don’t scam hunt on weekends), he fired off a fourth email asking why we hadn’t responded.

Here are some of the highlights of his emails, with our comments in bold:

  • “After we have successfully move the funds out of my bank in the manner I will suggest you will help me in investing my money in your country if you can provide a viable business idea and if you will agree to do that for me to shield me from the authorities in my bank and in my country.” That, my friend, is one serious run-on sentence. As far as business ideas, how do you feel about a cupcake factory?
  • “Firstly, I would want to know your work designation, in fact, I would want to know precisely the type of business or job you do and how old you are. Let it be known to you that this project is highly capital intensive, this is why I have to be very careful of who I choose to do this with me; I need your total devotion and trust to see this through.” Let it be known that we think you’re sketchier than Bernie Madoff.
  • “Before I commence, I will need you to send me your full names, telephone number, marital status, a copy of any form your identification (Driver's licence (sic.) Work ID or International passport) and your current address. I want to be sure that I am transacting with the correct person.” How ‘bout we just send you our AmEx and the keys to our apartment too?
  • “I will also send you my Work Identification and my family pictures upon receipt of your identification.” That’s nice. Did your “family pictures” come with the frame?
  • “My official lines are not secure lines as they are periodically monitored to assess our level of customer care in line with our Total Quality Management Policy.” Oh, of course. The TQMP. Which reminds me: Have you handed in your TPS reports?
  • “Your only obligation in this transaction will be to set up an offshore account that can accommodate these funds and I will give you more light later once you agree to partner with me.” What about the cupcake factory? Will you commit to the cupcake factory?!
  • “If I a director in a bank and for funds I manage in the private banking section of the bank say it is a deal, then you should know that I have done a thorough job underground.” Huh?
  • “I have nursed this Idea since we heard of the death of our customer, and the circumstances surrounding his deposit.” This sentence was lifted directly from one of his first emails.
  • “I wish to know that you will be ready to do this with me because as i now feel strongly you have the credentials and from the questions you ask, you look like a very careful person.” Yes, I’m an incredibly careful person, which is why I’m so eager to hand over my identity to a complete stranger.

So these letters basically amount to his first solicitation of personal information and documentation which would allow him, in certain circumstances, to assume the identity of his intended target. We decided it was time to push back a little bit. We’d give him the benefit of the doubt—perhaps he really did have access to all the millions—and if he really needed our help he’d have no problem furnishing us with the same information he requested of us.

Here’s what we wrote:

from    “MainStreet Mark”  <*********>
to    ***********
date    Tue, Feb 10, 2009 at 12:43 PM
subject    Re: Why the lack of communication

Mr. S. J.:

I apologize for the delay. I was out of town with the family and just got back.

If what you say is true, and you are really in a position to secure this money, then believe me, no one would be happier and more eager to help than me. But before I give you anything, I need to understand why you've asked for the items you have. And I would like to know a bit more about you. I understand that you are very protective given the matter at hand, but if you want to know my personal details, then I think I have a right to know yours.

So you've asked me for my full name, address, employment information, telephone number, marital status, a copy of my passport or ID. That's a lot of information to share with someone who I don't really know yet. I'm sure you can understand my caution proceeding here. I mean, if you had all of this material, it would be pretty easy for you to pose as me. I appreciate the fact that you've assured me that this is not your intention, and I am inclined to believe you, but I will need some assurances first. Since you've asked me for all of this information, I must ask the same of you. Before I consider moving forward, please provide me with:

1. your name
2. your address
3. your employment information
4. your phone number
5. your marital status
6. a copy of your passport/driver's license

Another thing I don't quite understand: Why is it that you want me to set up a foreign bank account? Couldn't you just ask someone in your country, someone you actually know and trust, to do that for you? Since it is in a foreign country? Why do you need me, someone so far away, to do this? It doesn't make any sense to me. Again, I don't have a lot of experience in financial matters, especially when it comes to international finance, but this just seems strange.

Also, can you please send me a copy of the paperwork you'll be filling out? I'm sure you understand that I will have to review it.

Thank you again and I look forward to entering the next stage of this exciting process.


“MainStreet Mark”

We’re still waiting for a response to this—we think we may have scared him off. Let’s give it a few more days. Stay tuned.