In Online Scams, New Nigerian Prince Is a Syrian Government Official

Check your email. There is a Syrian banker who really needs your help. "Greeting, My apologies writing you a surprise letter, My name is Mr .Anbouba issam from Damascus Syria." In other words, there is a new online scam in town, and it’s pretty shameless. Written in the usual impeccable English grammar of online scams, ...

By , a reporter based in New York.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Check your email. There is a Syrian banker who really needs your help.

"Greeting,

My apologies writing you a surprise letter, My name is Mr .Anbouba issam from Damascus Syria."

Check your email. There is a Syrian banker who really needs your help.

"Greeting,

My apologies writing you a surprise letter, My name is Mr .Anbouba issam from Damascus Syria."

In other words, there is a new online scam in town, and it’s pretty shameless. Written in the usual impeccable English grammar of online scams, with creative spelling and innovative capitalizations, a former Syrian "bank director" asks you to help him with some of his assets that had been frozen in a "foreign land." He later clarifies that this "foreign land" is the United Kingdom and, um, "Asia."

And then comes the only remotely grammatically correct sentence in the email (so probably copy-pasted from another source), which also, ironically, condemns "Mr. Anbouba issam’s" government: "The European Union imposed sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime after it violently suppressed anti-government protests killing thousands of innocent people." At least he’s owning up to it.

Syria has been ravaged by civil war since 2011 after the country’s President Bashar al-Assad indeed "violently suppressed anti-government protests." The estimated death toll in February was at least  140,000 and the conflict has caused a massive humanitarian crisis in the region, with refugee camps overflowing and militants spreading   into neighboring countries. The international community condemned the Assad regime for using chemical weapons on civilians and imposed multiple sanctions on the government.

"Mr. Anbouba issam’s" plea for "urgent action" is the newest iteration of the infamous "Nigerian scam" –also called the "419 scam" for the fraud section of the country’s criminal code — where a purported government official or "prince" offers millions to their "partner" (prey) for help with transferring funds out of the country. The practice actually dates back before the Internet era with the first "Nigerian scams" being sent out by snail mail and fax.

The fraudulent Syrian email also isn’t the first to be shamelessly leeching off a war zone. In the early days of the Afghanistan war, American Special Forces soldier "Bradon Curtis" wanted your help with moving a suitcase full of $36 million of terrorist drug cash out of Afghanistan.

During the Iraq war, in turn, "Sgt. Jennifer L–" found an astonishing amount of cash that belonged to Saddam Hussein’s family." Sgt. Jennifer was "being attacked by insurgents everyday and car bombs," so it would be very kind of you to help her to move the cash out of the country. "No strings attached," naturally.

At least the Afghanistan and Iraq scammers tried to appeal to their recipients’ patriotism. "Mr. Anbouda issam’s" tactics are unclear, to say the least.

Hanna Kozlowska is a reporter based in New York.

More from Foreign Policy

A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed  according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.
A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.

Why Do People Hate Realism So Much?

The school of thought doesn’t explain everything—but its proponents foresaw the potential for conflict over Ukraine long before it erupted.

Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.
Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.

China’s Crisis of Confidence

What if, instead of being a competitor, China can no longer afford to compete at all?

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.

Why This Global Economic Crisis Is Different

This is the first time since World War II that there may be no cooperative way out.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.

China Is Hardening Itself for Economic War

Beijing is trying to close economic vulnerabilities out of fear of U.S. containment.