the Yukos scam

Today I received a spam advance-fee fraud letter usually associated with an African country. Well, nothing of note, as I  get dozens of suchlike offers every week at my Gmail account. This time, however, it was signed “Nikolay Sintsov” and was supposed to come from an ex-Yukos employee who admits to

have a profiling amount in an excess of Forty Million,Five Hundred Thousand USA
Dollars(US$40.5M), which I seek you to accommodate for me. You will be rewarded
with 40% of the total sum for your partnership. Can you handle this?

He also confesses that

As his personal assistant, I was authorized to transfer money of an American oil
merchant for his last oil deal with my boss  Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The bitterest irony is, of course, that this kind of scam was never supposed to bounce back to Russia, otherwise I would never have read the following:

I have decided to use this sum to relocate to your country as soon as the funds
are transfered to you and never to be connected to any of Mikhail Khodorkovsky
conglomerates. Presently I am in London in Europe,for a hide out.

Quick googling of Sintsov’s name both in English and in Russian produced nothing save for the replocations of the same text. Anyway, the letter gave a short but mostly correct summary of the case against Khodorkovsky and the reasons for his prosecution in Russia (read more at the website of the Khodorkovsky center). It was obviously written some time ago, as it links to the Yukos website, long down.

What this piece of spam did for me was to make me think of all the Nigerian persecution victims mentioned in such letters – are they also real? And is there genuine human suffering behind this moralizing scam? Even more importantly, given that most of the information on Yukos and Putin in the message is correct, can we use spam to generate or add to moral panic? Or learn some information which acts as a cover for criminal intention but is nevertheless true?

Menawhile the second trial of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev is nearing its end. Most saddeningly, it will end with another jail term, maybe as long as the 14 years suggested by the prosecution.  You can read Khodorkovsky’s last statement here (PDF).

UPDATE: about a week later another interesting piece of subversive spam was found filtered, this time supposedly from the Economic and Financial Crisis Commission (and the e-mail address from a Chinese provider, ha!) saying I have sent money via Western Union to known scammers (which I surely haven’t) and giving a communication address at A WHOIS search shows the domain to be owned by World Media Group, LLC, seemingly a domain name dealer. Now that we can disagree about domain name speculation, but a mail address registered for your domain in order to be used for spam is a different story. Meanwhile, it’s another brilliant example of subversive spam – spammers acting under the guise of anti-spammers, like serial killers taking part in the hunt after themselves. Whenever an attempt at institutionalization is made, it can immediately be cracked and subverted to serve an opposite interest.


About beggingscholar

I am a scholar of Early Modern English literature and culture, teaching quite a number of English-related subjects at Kazan University, Russia. I am mainly interested in the formation of the Early Modern public sphere, scandals, subversion, non-literary discourses in literature and other forms of destructive creation.
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