A reader recently sent me a scan of a letter he received.
Here it is, redacted to preserve his anonymity.
Dear [name redacted]
My name is Wai Fei, and I write today to discuss the unclaimed inheritance of 11 million USD. At this point, I must ask that you deal with this matter with highest discretion, as the content of this letter is not trivial. I am sending this letter with confidential internet local auto-mailer service.
In 2004, a person with whom you share common name; Mr [name redacted] invested funds with the Hong Kong investment house I work with. During the time, we spread the funds across diverse local opportunities to make significant returns. In 2005, he instructed that the initial sum ($11m) be liquidated for a cash investment in Beijing. For this we contacted the mainland Shengjing Bank, to convey the money for a cash delivery. Only last year, the Shengjing Bank disclosed that the money remains unclaimed.
Upon investigations, we discovered that Mr [name redacted] died in Jiangxi shortly after transfer was made. Investigations reveal no kin exist to claim this money, and this is the reason we can consider this a life changing opportunity.
Since I have access and control to his source file, my plan is to insert documents that prove you are bona fide beneficiary to the inheritance. I will do this, and Shengjing Bank will have to release funds to you. I expect they carry out verification. This is no problem because it will based on information, I provide to CTBC. Shengjing Bank will have no choice but to make payment in full to you in a matter of days.
You may not understand how this can happen, but it is 100% achievable and legal. But you must agree to do an equal split with me. This is more than generous because you cannot achieve this without me. If we do not go for this, funds will be deemed unclaimed and it will go to coffers of the Chinese government. I assure you; we can achieve this quick and simple.
Please as am a family man and I take some risk to contact you like this. But I know in life you have to take any available chance to succeed. If we can agree, we should do this today.
If you can agree on the split, let us act swiftly. Please contact me today by my email [redacted].
I hate to break it to you, but if you receive a letter like this you are not going to make a single penny. In fact it’s possible that you will find yourself out of pocket when the sender tricks you into wiring them funds.
My guess is that many people would (quite rightly) identify this as a scam if it arrived in their inbox, and quickly press “delete.”
But my hunch is that although most folks would similarly consign the letter to their wastepaper basket if it arrived in their letterbox, there is probably a slightly larger percentage of folks who would be more trusting simply because it arrived via an old-fashioned letter rather than an email.
The good news is that if scammers are having to use techniques like this to get in front of potential victims, anti-spam defences and user awareness about email scams must be better than ever.
The bad news is that if such letters continue to be sent, someone somewhere obviously thinks scams like this can still make them a tidy profit.
Be on your guard against attacks and scams which reach you via unusual routes. And perhaps even more importantly, make sure that loved ones and vulnerable people who might be likely to fall for such fraud are also equally cautious.
If you have an elderly relative, for instance, who hasn’t spent much time on the internet they might be a lot less familiar with scams like this – and more likely to fall for it if it was delivered by their postman.