Cover Story

Fighting Spam with Ham

Local rocker Dege Legg poses as an investment banker and hooks an e-mail spammer for a wild ride.

Around the world, online fraud through use of e-mail is one of the fastest growing types of cons being used by criminals. One of the most popular scams is known under a few different names: the "419 Fraud" (after the criminal code this type of scam falls under in Nigerian law), the "Advance Fee Fraud" or the "Nigerian Connection" (as it's known in Europe). It consists of a subject, posing as a mid-level authority from a West African country, who has somehow come across a large sum of money — usually in the millions — and this money, because of some distant relative, can be yours.

You've seen them. Deleted them. And then deleted them again.

Out of perverse curiosity and boredom, I opened an e-mail account under the name "Frank Reno" (it sounded Gordon Gekko-ish) and posed as a big time, investment banker-type, hoping to lure one of these conmen into a dialogue. Not all of them answered, probably because I came straight out of the gate, throwing nutty stuff at them. I gradually modified my technique, and it didn't take long for a man named "Barrister Jim Hassan" to bite.

The following is the complete correspondence of me (Frank Reno) and one of the Nigerian Scam guys (Barrister Jim Hassan), which lasted from July 5, 2005 to Oct. 11, 2005.

Obviously, the King's English is not this guy's first language, and his e-mails are reproduced here in all their confused glory.

JULY 5, 2005



I am Barrister Jim Hassan, a solicitor in law, personal attorney to Mr. S.A Reno, a national of your country, who used to work with Shell development Company in Lome Togo. Here in after shall be referred to as my client. On the 21st of April 2000, my client, his wife and their only daughter were involved in a car accident along Nouvissi express Road.

All occupants of the vehicle unfortunately lost their lives. Since then I have made several enquiries to your embassy here to locate any of my clients extended relatives, this has also proved unsuccessful. After these several unsuccessful attempts, I decided to track his last name over the Internet, to locate any member of his family hence I contacted you.

However, I contacted you to assist in repatriating the fund valued at US $5.5 million left behind by my client before it gets confiscated or declared unserviceable by the IBA BANK where this huge amount were deposited. The said IBA BANK LOME TOGO has issued me a notice to provide the next of kin or have his account confiscated within the next twenty-one official working days.

Since I have been unsuccessful in locating the relatives for over 2 years now, I seek the consent to present you as the next of kin to the deceased since you have the same last names, so that the proceeds of this account can be paid to you. Therefore, on receipt of your positive response, we shall then discuss the sharing ratio and modalities for transfer.

I have all necessary information and legal documents needed to back you up for claim. All I require from you is your honest cooperation to enable us see this transaction through. I guarantee that this will be executed under legitimate arrangement that will protect you from any breach of the law.

Best regards.

Barrister Jim Hassan.

JULY 6, 2005

Dear Barrister Hassan,

I am a businessman and financial consultant involved in various state and trust corporations. I have 20 years experience in the appropriation of committees for funds and trustworthiness.

First off, I'm sorry to hear about the car accident. Send my "certified condolences" out to your client's family.

Secondly, I am very interested in your offer of $5.5 million dollars. This money of which you speak I could use this money. Currently, I am experiencing some small financial difficulties that could easily be rect-o-fied by your offer.

In short, let's do business. Send me instructions and all attendant information needed for us to get this transaction to happen.

Frank W. Reno
Viceroy of Securities & Trust
Louisiana Bank & Trustitude

JULY 13, 2005


Attn: Frank W. Reno,

Greetings, Thanks For Your Urgent Response, But It Has Come to Be Very Necessary I Educate You a Bit on the Next of Kinship as Attainable in the Legal and Banking Policy here my country and the Globally at large.

You See, Next of Kinship is Not Limited to Relations of the Deceased, Nor is it Confided to the Circuit of Parental Relationship, Rather it is By Choice of the Benefactor as Regards to Whom He Wish to WILL it to (Beneficiary) Either Formally By Write Up, Or Informally By Secret Information Disclosure to Beneficiary be Him/Her Business Partner, Relation, Kinsmen, Or Friends or Well Wishers.

Therefore By Virtue of the Above Stated, You can Claim to Be the Next of Kin of the Deceased as My Legal Chambers was directed by the Bank to locate relatives of LATE ENGINEER "SMITH A.RENO," Hence on Your Acceptance to This, I Will Communicate to You the CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION of the Deceased as Contained in My Security LAW File Diskette of the legal office, So That on Your Readiness to Forward Claim Application to the Bank, I Will Direct You and Reveal to You the Necessary Information Which You Will Enclose in Your Application to the Bank.

Therefore on Correspondence of Bank Confidential Information With What are contained in Your Application to them, They Have No Alternative Other than to Release the Fund to Your bank account as next of kin to LATE ENGINEER SMITH A.RENO. Believing You that You that let me down in this transaction as I trusted You before contacting on the very business that only honesty and trustwhorthiness between me and you. You are the Next of Kin, As he Has No One for this inheritance Claim and his bank has been calling on my office to produce the next of kin.

Having a relation here or not is not a problem as next of kin can come from either the mother side or father side. This is a 100 business that I called You in for and by using the test of names given to this legal Chambers by IBA-BANK OF AFRICA -LOME REPUBLIC TOGO to know if we can locate a relation LATE ENGINEER SMITH A.RENO and I choose you as the next of kin.

Note that this is business and I want us to share this money among us in this very virgin year we are in as the bank has called on my legal office to present the next of kin to late Engr. Bawles and I don't want to allow few bank directors in Ecobank to lay their hands on this money. If I fail to provide the next of kin to LATE ENGINEER SMITH A.RENO that will lead the money to go as a lost fund. God made everything and His directions is what lead's me to contact you on this issue. we can save this money with your foreign assistance to me.

There is no risk in this business and note its a legal law chambers that contacted you on this very issue. Please, With the Above Explanations, I believe You Can Now Observe How Safe it is For You to Get involved in this Mutual Beneficial Transaction, Therefore I Request You Declare Your Interest Immediately For the Fund Claim and Transfer Directives to You.

You Are The Right Person Which I Directed This Letter To For A Mutual Business Benefit. Confirm your private telephone contact to me for easy communication. I will do that as soon as I hear from you.

Awaiting Your Immediate Response.


Barrister Jim Hassan

JULY 19, 2005


You're telling me a lot of info, but not saying much. Although I'm a highly efficient machine of professional professionalization, I sneeze $100 bills. I absolutely detest discussing the specifics of any business transaction in legal terminology. Yawn. It is boring, sir. I'm a simple man, Jima Cowboy. I was born in Texas and rode Holstein cows in the Great Cattle Baron Wars of '82 and lost a finger in that war. I'm nobody's fool. So let's talk numbers.

Also, I must inform you that any "LOME TOGO-ME MONGO CASH THING" that we may be involved in had better be on the "up and up." You'd better not be trying no Togo-Pogo bullcrap, son. If that would be the case, you're in for a world of pain. Be warned! I know 16 different types of karate-wrestling moves. All of them can be summoned within seconds from the "man traps" that I call my hands.

You asked for my personal phone number. I will send it soon as we establish an adequate level of "trustworthy trustiness."

In the United States, we have a little thing called the "Lou Diamond-Phillips Trust Bond." American Professionals, when dealing in International Affairs, use it in standard operating procedure and this situation is no different. Keeps everybody honest.

Therefore, before we conduct any additional business, I'm going to have to ask you to send $500 to the following address:

Diamond-Phillips Trust Bond Association
C/O Frank Reno
XXX East Vermillion apt. X
Lafayette, LA 70501 (United States of America)

Well-concealed cash (wrap it in tinfoil) or money order will do fine. After the security bond is received, we'll get down to business, my friend. And we'll be making a lot of money with future transactions, because I've got a few other business opportunities for you on the side, but keep that a secret. Nobody needs to be knowing about how rich the two of us will be getting with all the things I'm going to do with you, my brother.

Frank Reno
Viceroy of Securities & Trust

JULY 21, 2005

Dear Franks.

Thanks very much for your kind gesture. My good brother Franks I now know that you want to do this deal with me. But my dear friend for me to send $500 there's no way to do that. This money is in the bank. I cannot pull it out from the bank without processing it to your bank account in your country. If you want to do this deal with me tell me, then I will go to high court and get the text from you to fill in and forward it to the bank for urgent processing of this fund. Ok?

Thanks and consider and get back to me.

Jim Hassan.

Call me 00228 920 65 11.

JULY 21, 2005

Dear Jims,

OK, forget the $500. I'm breaking the No. 1 Rule of Transactional Law, over here, but I suppose I can risk it just this once, but only once will I deviate from the Standard Operating Procedure of Honorable American Business Machinations.

You're really putting me in a "bad place," Jims. Really bad. And it's unfortunate on your part because things have been going really good here at Money Bags Inc. I mean, really good. Lot of money coming in and I've got a surplus of DISPOSABLE INCOME sitting in trash bags waiting to be invested in your business proposal.

Out of the goodness of my heart, I want to help you.

Looking forward to hearing your reply,

Frank Reno
Viceroy of Securities and Trust

JULY 23, 2005

Attn: Frank Reno (Viceroy of securities and trust)

Thank you so much for getting back to me and for your interest in this transaction. When I came across your contact something in me told me that you might be someone to be trusted but in as much as my instinct hardly fails me, I have not chosen you yet until I am sure that I can trust You. Based on that, I wish that you give me your word of honor by the under-listed points in this mail.

Please, can you give me your word of honor by the following points stated below?

They are thus:

1. That you will not cheat me during the course of this transaction.

2. My own share of the money will be in your safe keep until I come over to your country for sharing and further investment.

3. That you will keep this transaction very confidential even from your best friend for safety of both parties.

4. That you will forward to me your contact information for easy communication between the both parties.

5. That you shall always contact me whenever you get information from the bank so that we will put heads together as one family and get this transaction consummated successfully.

This transaction will only take about 11 bank working days or less for the money to be transferred into your account. But as soon as your application is approved and a funding deposit from you is made, then it will take about 2 days and the money will be in your account.

As soon as I get your positive response to this my mail I will forward to you the payment application form, which you will fill and fax it to the bank for immediately action from the bank.

God bless you.

Barrister Jim Hassan

Call Me: 001-228-920-6511.

I Need This Guarantee.

JULY 24, 2005

Attn: Jim (Barrister Man)

Now I feel good about the relationship. I'm still a little suspicious about this whole business, but my Jesterton-2000/Gut Instinct Lie Detector is telling me good stuff about you, my friend Jim.

Here is my reply to your list of demands:

1. That you will not cheat me during the course of this transaction.

My friend Jim, I'm deeply insulted that you would even say such a thing. After all the stuff we've been through together?? Let's have no more of these accusations. Let us now, shake hands, across the borders of peace and lawful transactions. Let's create a verbal cue so that each of us truly KNOWS who we are talking to in our correspondence. From this point on, you will know it is I when I greet you with the secret appellation: "Captain Mustache" (as you will be known). And you can greet me as: "Monsignor Carbuncle."

2. My own share of the money will be in your safe keep until I come over to your country for sharing and further investment.

Agreed. I'll keep your money in my Giganto-saurus 7000 Vault Safe with the special spring-loaded action bolt (with mnemonic valves)!

3. That you will keep this transaction very confidential even from your best friend for safety of both parties.

(silence) ... No need; I am Zen Master of Quiet Rumblings.

4. That you will forward to me your contact information for easy communication between the both parties.

Consider it done, Captain Mustache, sir!

5. That you shall always contact me whenever you get information from the bank so that we will put heads together as one family and get this transaction consummated successfully.

Family's the name-o-the-game, Jims. I got Texas Ranger Blood in me. Our two heads together will, indeed, make the transaction consummate.

Now, what I need you to do is send me the details of exactly what you need me to do next. And don't do it in one of them fancy six-sheet-to-the-Devil's-wind emails of yours. Keep it short and sweet. Plain. Simple.

Bust it,
Frank Reno (aka "Monsignor Carbuncle")
Viceroy of Securities & Trust

JULY 25, 2005

Attn: Frank Reno.
Viceroy of Securities

Thanks for your mail and all I want to ask from you is honesty and pure trust that this fund will be very saved in your hands as the bank remits the inheritance fund into your bank account as next of kin to LATE ENGINEER SMITH A. RENO. All you have to do now is to fill the transfer fund application and fax and also by email to the bank foreign remittance department for more formal concern and fast response to transfer this fund into your bank a/c.

Furthermore, keep me informed as soon as you fax your application to the bank and also send the application by email too for a sign of urgency from your side and make sure you get in touch with me. The bank will contact you in respect of the fund application that you send to their office.

I expect your immediate response.


Barrister Jim Hassan


JULY 27, 2005

Attn: The Jim,

Greetings, Captain Mustache! (See? Now you know it's me.) I noticed you did not address me as "Monsignor Carbuncle" in your email. How can I be sure this is actually YOU???

I thought we had an agreement! You would be Captain Mustache and I would be Monsignor Carbuncle! Oh, this is making me nervous, my friend if indeed this is you I'm talking to and not someone else!

This could be a trap! I'm nobody's fool. Write me back when you decide you can stick to your agreement of secrecy! Until then, YOU GET NOTHING! N-O-T-H-I-N-G!

And I say good day to you, Sir! Good day!

Terribly upset and slightly paranoid,
Frank Reno
Viceroy of Securities & Trust

JULY 27, 2005

Dear Monsignor Carbuncle Frank.

I am not again sure what you mean or why you get angry but I am trying to conduct serious business with you. The email is very secure and there is no need more for of the captain names. Do I remind you that there are $5 million dollars that we are going to transact? I understand you could be scared but we are only part of way through this process so please stop with games and fears, my dearest Frank.

Thanks for your mail and keep me informed as you send the fund application to the bank. Have you send the text from to bank? This must be done soon.


Barrister Jim

JULY 30, 2005

Dear Barrister Jim,

OK, OK. I will try to understand your methods of doing business. Perhaps they are a little unorthodox compared to that in the U.S.A. (Home of the Brave). I am currently in the process of filling out the paper work.

Also, I've been very busy at Securities and Trust Inc. I work hard. My job requires an extraordinary of my time, but I get paid VERY WELL for my duties. However, it has taken a toll on my health. Since August of last year, I've been forced by my employers to take a prescription drug that causes extreme dizziness, out of body experiences, and sudden fits of swearing and obscenities. Please be patient with me. I'm rich, but have health problems YOU SCUM-SUCKING PIECE OF RAT TRASH!!!

OK, I am off to work on the paperwork.

Frank Reno

AUGUST 1, 2005

Dear Partner,

Thanks for you and your job and health. Keep me informed as you send the application. Thanks and please don't delay this fund transfer process.

Barrister Jim

AUGUST 1, 2005


OK, I faxed the info and application to the bank. I even put an urgent "Snuffulufagus Rammstein" on the bank application so it would go through faster. It cost me an extra $25. That will have to come out of your end of the proceeds, but that's OK.

Viceroy Frank
Viceroy of Securities & Trust

AUGUST 2, 2005

Dear Viceroy Frank.

Thanks for your mail and please I advice that you re-fax the application to the bank and also send by email to the bank for more urgency from your side. This is because I went to the bank to confirm that you fax the application to the bank. The bank informed me that they are yet to receive your fax. so re-fax the application and send by email also.


Barrister Jim.

AUGUST 5, 2005

Dear Barrister Jim,

Fax. Fax. Fax. Is that all you think about? Faxes? I sent the damn thing two days ago!

I've got important business to tend to and can't be messing around with your sorry Barrister butt forever. Let's get moving! I'm feeling greedy! Let's go. Move it! Let's get this thing rolling. Maybe your bank's fax machine is broken and doesn't know how to receive American faxes from Scrontological 3000L fax machines? Did you think about that? My fax is working, I just checked it.

Check with your bank. You're probably out there SIPPING WINE FROM A COCONUT ON A BEACH IN POGOVILLE!

Viceroy of Securities & Trust

AUGUST 8, 2005

Dear Frank.

How are you doing today? Listen, my dear brother, I don't know what is really going on over this very business because you have told me that you have sent the text form to the bank. Your behavior is erratic. But just about one and half-hour ago, the bank called me and told me that you have not sent any form to bank. If really you want do this business with me, kindly send the form to the bank for them to start processing this fund into your bank account.

Please try, my brother, to stop delaying this transaction.

Thanks and would like to hear from you.

Jim Hassan

At this point in our correspondence, Jim e-mailed me a bank form. I filled it with false info and sent it back to him and the e-mail address of his bank.

AUGUST 8, 2005

Dear Jim,

Here's the form with all the attendant info other than my fax, which is broken. I hope you're happy now. You're starting to get on my nerves. Now get to work on making our million-dollar transaction go through.


Frank Reno
Viceroy of Securities & Trustiness

AUGUST 9, 2005

Dear Frank.

Thank you very much for your mail. Listen, I advise you to send it through E-mail that I gave to you in that Text Form.

Please stop delay my Good Brother Frank.


Jim Hassan

AUGUST 9, 2005

Dear Jim,

Slow your roll, player. I already sent your form off! Now go work your magic.

I've been having a very busy week. Last Thursday, I nearly chopped off my big toe, trying to sand the corn off my right foot. Thing hurts like hellfire now; both the corn and the toe, thank you. In addition, my wife is now threatening to divorce me on grounds that I've "failed to satisfactorily meet the expectations of a non-scientist." I don't know what that means, but if you've got any idea, let me know. As you can see, I've been quite busy, juggling madness with two pitchforks and a salad shooter, so you'll have to excuse me if I'm a little slow in keeping up the pace with our business dealings. But I do have good news: I sent off the application form, once again, to your bank this morning. All information included other than fax ... I broke that thing over the head of one of my subordinates, last week, for insubordinizing. Don't ask. The guy's a lazy pervert. He'd hooked a French Horn up to an air-compressor, in the parking lot, and was making "World War III sounds." Some truly awful noises.

Nonetheless, I should have the fax machine replaced within a week. So, to quote the famous British poet, Gavin Rossdale, and to sum up this weeks parade of shenanigans, "There must be something that we can eat, maybe find another lover. ... Everything's Zen? I don't think so."


Frank Reno

The next day I received an e-mail from someone claiming to be from the International Bank of Africa.

AUGUST 10, 2005


DEAR SIR. 09/08/05


Ref/CC/ Account Section.

AUGUST 19, 2005


What the hell is going on over there? I'm trying to make some money and all y'all are doing is messing around with my $5.5 million dollar inheritance fund. I keep sending you information and you corndogs keep wussing out. What's the deal?

Where you at, boy? I'm still looking to make some money and I ain't heard from you in week. You'd better quit smoking that Tomo Logo Tobacco or quit doing whatever drugs it is you're on. You've got to get back over here in the REAL WORLD, man! You ain't gonna make no money doing that stuff.

Send me an email, Brother Barrister Jim. I'm waiting on you. Got a gang of American Cash Dollars sitting in a footlocker with your name on it.

Frank Reno
Viceroy of All Securities

AUGUST 25, 2005

Dear Frank,

I can see that you not a serious man? Bank told me that your account in the United States is not there.

Good by

Jim Hassan.

AUGUST 26, 2005

Dear Jim,

If there's one thing you should know about me is that I'm as serious as a damn longhair on I-10, trying to get through Alabama with a fender full of weed, son! That's pretty serious. I am highly offended that you would question my seriousity in this business venture. My bank account, for your information, is registered under a double-secret process, reserved for special members of the Society of Viceroys that can't be divulged to outsiders looking in. If you want in, you got to go through ME and only I know the secret password code!

If you, sir, are serious about releasing these funds, you can reply to this email, and maybe I'll consider giving you the password to my personal double-secret bank account.

Frank Reno
Viceroy of Securities & Trust


Dear Frank,

Thanks for your email, I can see that you now want do this transaction with me. But there is one important thing. I ask that you tell bank here that you want to re-activate your cousin's bank account and for them to transfer the money urgently to your account.

Please do this now. Please inform me as soon as you do that my brother,


Jim Hassan


Dearest Friend Jim,

As you may have seen in the news, Louisiana is underwater from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina. I had a vision the night before the hurricane. In it I saw thunderous rains, unholy snakes, and more rain. Also, I saw towers of silt tumbling into the flaxen seaweed ponds. And many more things which I have not the courage to tell you now, for they are too horrid to repeat.

My bank suffered a terrible amount of damage from the hurricane. The computers are down and I will be unable to withdraw or deposit any money until they are returned to working order.

In the meantime, I must ask for a SMALL LOAN from you (or from the account of my cousin Reno whom you keep referring to in your country) in order to continue the progress of our business contract. I NEED $700 or I may lose control of my assets if I do not file a Whamo-X/2000 Accounting Statement with my bank within the week. In order to prove these are my bank assets, I need to file this by the end of the week or I risk losing all of my money and, in turn, our money. The money we will share when you come to visit this country.

Please, I am begging you, my friend Jim. This is an emergency. I need your gift of friendship ($700) more than ever now.

Urgently awaiting your reply,
Frank Reno
Viceroy of Securities & Trust


My Good Friend Frank,

I thank you for your mail. Well, my dear friend, I'm very, very sorry for your story you told me on your letter about the hurricane. I am very sorry about that, but my brother, I have spend a lot of money on this very business. I have no money to send to you now. If you want us to get this money, try and see what you can do to get the bank to reactivate your bank account. For urgent transfer the money into your bank account please try my brother.



SEPTEMBER 12, 2005


You're just going to leave me out here, like this?? With my bank funds taken away and my cousin's money in a Lego Bank and you on the beach eating coconuts! The nerve you have, my old friend. After all the stuff we've been through?! All this time we've known each other?! And you're going to sell me out, just like that?


Not next month! Not next Wednesday! NOW!!!

Jim Hassan, you are a Bad Man!

Frank Reno
Viceroy of Securities, Trust, & Fiduciary Responsibility

On October 11, I received the following e-mail from Yahoo Mail, informing me that Jim Hassan's account had been terminated.

OCTOBER 11, 2005


The person that was using this email address is a scammer and thief, one of the worst persons of our society. Do not send him any money, if you have, immediately attempt to cancel the payment. If you have lost money, contact your local law enforcement for your next actions. More information about cybercrime:

Just for kicks, because I no longer had anyone to write, I wrote back the Yahoo People who'd shut down his account.

Dear Sir or Madam:

I'm Frank Reno, baby. Never make the mistake of thinking that bozo Jim Hassan was scamming me when in fact I was conducting a non-official sting, counter-scam operation of my own construction TO SCAM HIM.

"Fighting Spam with Ham," I call it.

Frank Reno
Viceroy for the Protection of the Common Man
Lafayette, Louisiana