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The return of a classic scam

Tony Levene

There are times when I don't know whether to laugh or cry. And there are times when I feel like a parody of a bit part player in an old EastEnders episode – going into the Queen Vic, shouting: “Oh, my gawd. I don't believe it. Pull the other one. It can't be for real.”

But, straight up, it was for real. And it arrived earlier this week. It came in a white window envelope, with a first class 46p stamp, addressed very formally through the window to me as Anthony Levene.

Who writes to me as Anthony other than the taxman and my bank? Even solicitors complaining that I have traduced their scammy clients call me Tony.

What was this missive? Readers may not credit this but the envelope contained the classic “Nigerian 419” letter.

What goes around, comes around

Earlier this month, I was discussing scams with a police friend of mine. I told him that there were a number of rackets that I had not seen for quite a while. Among those was the Nigerian letter and the email which tells you that you have won a fantastic number of millions in a lottery which you have never entered, let alone even heard of.

Maybe he was wiser than me when he advised me “never, say never. What goes around, comes around”. And so it did.

The heading of the letter itself started with number of Chinese characters, followed by a Hong Kong fax number and an email address. The signatory – a Mr McKay Xu – told me that he is a private investment manager involved with the estate of a William Levene.

William, Xu writes, died (on an unspecified date but apparently between 2002 and 2008) in a hiking accident in mainland China (that's a big place but there are no further details).

In 1997, before his death, William went to Xu to ask him to act as an investment manager for his $17.5 million. This money was transferred in cash in 2002 to mainland China for an urgent business venture. But poor William went hiking and died, without leaving a will.

So as I share the same surname, Xu concludes that I must be the nearest to a next of kin. The letter has some spelling mistakes but the basic message is that Xu will share the money with me equally if I help him deal with a “specialist bank”. Xu is peeved William is dead as “he still owes me my percentage for service and naturally I deserve to have that money but cannot do it alone. So I need your help”.

There are at least four William Levenes in the UK and two companies with that or similar names. But if my surname had been Jones, then the letter would have cited a William Jones.


Why do I find all this rather funny? Firstly the mock serious English: “It would be legally confirmed as I am working with my local solicitor on this deal to make sure all legal aspects are covered.” Then there is the threat that if I don't go along with this, “the funds will revert back to the state where is may be shared by state officials for their personal use and enrichment”. Imagine, officials scamming the estate of poor William.

I can't believe that anyone still falls for this scam – named after the section in the Nigerian criminal code which outlaws the practice – although it is possible. But it is also hilarious that some poor guy has spent money on printing and posting all these letters. He must have paid out for loads of envelopes, paper and countless 46p stamps.

I wonder who is behind all this. It is obviously a false name – no one is going to use real details. It may well not be someone in Hong Kong at all. But whoever it is has got to be pretty stupid. Does anyone think I am going to hand over 50%. No way! I want at least 90%!!!

So I shall email Xu to tell him that I shall talk to him but only on the condition that I take the bigger cut. He'll probably agree – after all there is no money and he just wants me to keep paying $10,000 here and $20,000 there until I go broke. But I also intend to ask him to send $10,000 in cash to prove he is who he says. He won't like that!

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