One of the most fascinating forms of criminal-produced literature is the letter or email that sets up the 419 scam. These messages spin colorful tales of Nigerian princes, deposed dictators, deceased Spanish utility employees with rich, generous, and terminally ill widows, and assorted other desperate cases. They all have in common the same sort of pitch: I am writing to you [feel special!] in order to get your help with a financial transaction [are you greedy enough to want some free money?]. Are you willing to help me [are you sympathetic]? While the messages themselves are almost never truly personal (the scammers do not know you, really, and are usually spamming as many people as possible at once), they play on a perception of personal communication fostered by our cultural understanding of the written letter. When a gullible mark is on the hook, caught up in the story and their own desires and sympathies, the criminals use further communications to begin a process of taking money and personal information.
I’ve seen a lot of these messages over the years, although I seem to be seeing quite a lot more of them recently, for some reason. I find them…well, I must confess that I find them sort of charming, some more so than others. They’re impossible, of course, but the details are sometimes absolutely brilliant, and it’s obvious to me that some of the scammers involved are genuinely creative people (you know, for criminals). I thought I’d seen the best they could do, and quite enjoyed it, until this morning.
This morning, I received an email from an actual, honest-to-god Avenger.
You really have to read this thing yourself. The message came from one Steve Rogers [firstname.lastname@example.org], and reads as follows:
I am sorry to encroach into your privacy in this manner, I found you
listed in the trade Center Chambers of Commerce directory here in
Iraq,I find it pleasurable to offer you my partnership in business.I
only pray at this time that your address is still valid. I want to
solicit your attention to receive money on my behalf.
I am Capt: STEVE ROGERS an officer in the U.S.ARMY and also a West
Point Graduate presently serving in the Military with the 82nd Air
Borne Division Peace keeping force in Baghdad, Iraq. I am on the move
to Afghanistan from Iraq as the last batch just left,and i really need
your help in assisting me with the safe keeping of two military trunk
boxes which has just arrived the United Kingdom from the Iraq. I hope
you can be trusted?
Kindly view this news blog below for some
If you can be trusted,I will explain further when i get a response
from you.Nevertheless, reconfirm the following to me as follows.
(a) Your full Names……………
(b) Your physical mailing address………..
(c) Your direct telephone numbers………….
(d) Your occupation……….
Please Reply via my private
God Bless America.
82nd. Airborne Ranger
Helicopter Attack Company
Pilot In Command (Flight Leader)
UH-1G Gunship MOS-153A
Iraq 16-2006 to 11-2011
Currently Deployed in Afghanistan defense
official site: email@example.com
This is freakin’ brilliant. The basic move (posing as a military officer in Iraq or Afghanistan) isn’t that new — there have been other 419 stories that use this device (using most of the text of this message, as it happens). No, the real clue that this is a piece of genius is in the little details. Steve Rogers, as many a nerd can tell you, is the original Captain America, which makes the email addresses and the name and military details the charm, the weed-out detail that separates the truly gullible marks from herd.
Captain America #42 (see the scammer’s gmail address) marks the end of the story of the murder of the first Captain America, Steve Rogers, back in 2007-2008. At the end of this arc (runs for issues #25-#42), Bucky Barnes is the new Captain America, a replacement, known to some but not to everyone — a “stolen” (or at least passed-on, inherited) identity, much like the identity the scammer him or herself is using. When Steve Rogers “died,” it made the national news in the US, including an article in The New York Times. ABC contributor Bryan Robinson even suggested parallels between the death of the original Captain America and the political setup of the Iraq war.
Of course, I could be over-thinking that. The “42” in the gmail address could mean something else entirely (or nothing at all). Issue #10 of Captain America Comics, for instance, was the last one written by Simon and Kirby, and was released in January of 1942. It features a story about smuggling secret cargo past the Nazis (military trunk boxes, anyone?). Who knows? Either way, this is deliciously clever stuff — a commentary, full of contempt, on the scammer’s intended victims. It may also reflect the scammer’s own geek predilections, humanizing the criminal him/herself in a curious sort of way.
The second email address — firstname.lastname@example.org — is another fun detail. 1966 is the year the Captain America animated series played on television.
There’s something really adorable about this sweet fancrook action. There’s also a good message here for those of us trying to avoid being scammed — the devil really is in the details!