The evolution of the 419 scam

Once upon a time, much of my unsolicited email came from relatives, descendants or former colleagues of African despots, all of whom had left vast fortunes which needed to be expatriated from their countries of origin without incurring the wrath of those jurisdictions’ tax officials. My assistance in this matter was solicited: all that was required was that my current account should become a temporary parking garage for these vast sums, after which a substantial consideration (for example “$15,000,000 (FIFTEEN MILLION UNITED STATES DOLLARS”) would be paid to compensate me for services so briefly rendered. This was the 419 Scam or the Advance Fee Fraud.

I assumed that it had declined, on the grounds that even the dimmest half-wit must by now be alert to it. But an intriguing new version has surfaced. This time the deceased billionaire whose fortune needs to be dispersed is not an African despot, but my friend, the late, great Roger Needham.


On behalf of the Trustees and Executor of the estate of Late Prof Roger
Michael Needham. I once again try to notify you as my earlier letter
was returned Undelivered. I hereby attempt to reach you again by this
Same email address on the WILL.

I wish to notify you that late Prof Roger Michael Need ham made you a
beneficiary to his WILL.
He left the sum of Fifteen Million, One Hundred thousand United States
Dollars to you in the Conductibility and last testament to his WILL.

These may sound strange and unbelievable to you with the current upsurge
in cyber crime and the likes, but it is for real and true.
Being a widely traveled man, he must have been in contact with you in
the past or simply you were nominated to him by one of his numerous
friends abroad who wished you good.

Prof Roger Michael Needham, an engineer/Computer scientist who worked
as Director, Microsoft Research limited, Cambridge before he died on 1st
March in the year 2003 and was patron of the Royal Academy of
Engineering and also member of various societies and organizations.

He was a very dedicated Christian who loved to give out. His great
Philanthropy earned him numerous awards during his life time one of which
was the Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Late Roger Michael Needham died on the 1st March in the year 2003 at
the age of 68 years, and his WILL is now ready for execution. According
to him this money is to support humanitarian/philanthropic activities
and to help the poor and the needy in our society. Please if I reach you as
I am hopeful, endeavor to get back to me as soon as possible to enable
me conclude my job. I hope to hear from you in no distant time.

In your response, please provide the following information.

The requested information shall enable me authenticate the ones in the
WILL and my file.

I await your prompt response.

Yours in Service


Some random thoughts:

1. A quick Google search reveals that there is a Keith Overlander whose LinkedIn profile says that his current position is “Managing Director at Lehman Brothers”. I’m sure that this Keith Overlander — assuming he exists — has nothing to do with this particular little fraud, but given that Lehman Brothers went bankrupt in 2008, it doesn’t exactly improve one’s confidence in LinkedIn profiles. Perhaps that Keith Overlander concluded that he wouldn’t need another job after the bankruptcy, and consequently had no need to update his LinkedIn profile.

2. When he died, Roger was Managing Director of the Microsoft Research Lab in Cambridge and moderately well off. But he and his wife Karen Sparck-Jones gave most of their money away to educational charities like the Cambridge College of which they were Fellows.

3. I particularly enjoyed the revelation that Roger was “a very dedicated Christian” though it is true that he enjoyed giving money away. When I asked him about it once, he replied: “Well, we figured why should our executors have all the fun?”

4. You’d have thought that by this time the scammers would have figured out that if they don’t get capitalisation, titles and grammar right then even the average half-wit will smell a rat.

Thanks to Bill Thompson, who got one of these before I did and alerted me to the ironies therein.