419 spammers use Holocaust to boost credibility

Experts say a 419 email scam from the Czech Republic uses legitimate organisations and Holocaust victims to strengthen its case

A spammer has bombarded at least 75,000 inboxes with an email scam that offers recipients a share of $35m (£19.5m) from a World War II Holocaust victim's bank account, experts say.

In what appears to be similar to a Nigerian 419 scam, the fraudster has used legitimate organisations to plead his case. The supposed author, Ronald Lauder, said he was a member of Swiss organisation the Independent Committee of Eminent Persons (ICEP), which he said tracked down bank accounts that have been dormant since 1945.

The ICEP appears to exist, but at the time of writing, its Web site was unavailable.

In his email, 'Lauder' explained that the victim left no will or relatives, so by Swiss law, it was possible to claim the money.

The email stated: "I discovered a dormant account of ORDNER ADELE with a credit balance of 35,000,000 US dollar [sic] plus accumulated interest. The beneficiary was murdered during the holocaust era, leaving no WILL and no possible records for trace of heirs… Being a top executive at ICEP, I have all secret details and necessary contacts for claim of the funds without any hitch. Due to the sensitive nature of my job, I need a foreigner to HELP claim the funds…"

"Kindly provide me with your full name, address, and telephone/fax. I will pay all required fees to ensure that the fund is transferred to a secure, numbered account in your name in the Cayman Island, of which you will be capable of accessing the funds gradually and transferring to your country and other banks of choice in the world. My share will be 60 percent and your share is 40 percent of the total amount. THERE IS NO RISK INVOLVED."

In the last week, anti-spam firm BlackSpider said it had seen 75,000 copies of the email. The message was traced back to a Czech email server called: killbill2.atlas.cz, said the company.

"It's better than most scams, which are badly written and misspelled," said John Cheney, CEO of BlackSpider Technologies. "I would suggest that the take-up is high or it wouldn't happen. But the technology for sending this is pretty basic."

According to BlackSpider, six percent of the spam it sees is fraud-related. Cheney added that the email was like a cross between a scam and a phishing email.

To back up his claim, the spammer also provided Web links to legitimate sites including the Holocaust Victim Assets' Litigation Web site and the International Commission on Holocaust Insurance Claims Web site.

"Thievery is bad enough, but doing it under the cloak of helping Holocaust victims, I really don't have the words for," said Richard Starnes, president of the Information Systems Security Association UK. "They are using apparently legitimate companies to add credence to their deceit."