Whilst untold heartbreak and misery unfolds day by day, month by month, three years on in the Syrian conflict, in which something close to 150,000 people have lost their lives and millions more displaced, most of whom are now long-term refugees far from home and with precious little hope of ever returning to their native lands, there are those who will seek to make profit out of the Syrian people's misery even though they are far removed from it. Early last November, this column posted an article of a Nigerian style 'scam' which drew on a scenario in Iran to pitch for sympathy followed closely by bank account details of the unwitting reader. That one was relatively sophisticated; the attempt received recently but in respect of Syria was less so, but equally dangerous.
The LinkedIn network is a highly effective professional network for academics, businessmen, politicians and a whole range of people to network highly effectively and this columnist is an avid user of it. LinkedIn could perhaps rightly be described as 'Facebook for grown ups'. But this does not make it any less prone to nefarious dealers or all kinds and unscrupulous Nigerian scammers or such like. It should be emphasised at this point, that when the term 'Nigerian Scam' is employed, it is because this style of financial crime emanated from there and still go on today, but it is likely they have been copied by other nationals too, but nevertheless on the balance of probability, this plan was hatched in a sleazy internet café in deepest Lagos.
Contact was made towards the writer via one of the Syrian groups, the writer is a member of, by someone claiming to be Rami Makhlouf, a relative of the Assad family and owner of BENA Properties, part of Cham Holdings. Connection was allowed out of curiosity and the following 'pitch' was received which included a link to the Wikipedia entry for the named person:
“I believe you are a highly respected personality, considering your position and the fact that we newly met during my discreet search for a partner whom can assist me in taking this task to its success.
Due to the ongoing crisis in my country Syria (Syrian Uprising), which has unfortunately claimed thousands of Syrian lives.
This current crisis that engulfed our country has resulted in continual killing of innocent protesters by the present regime, which unfortunately I am part of it because I am the maternal cousin of President Bashar Assad. I wish to state categorically that I am against the killing of innocent protesters and I have no hand in the crackdown, which I have been accused.
I do not wish to go in details in the events in the country because you have already heard or watch from International Media houses. I wish to inform you that I have been sanctioned by EU and other international communities for the crimes against Syrian people.Sincerely I have been wrongfully accused.
The reason I contacted you is that I wish to secretly entrust under your personal care, a local arrangement of opening a Dollar Account with a reputable Bank in your country where I can safeguard my funds secretly pending outcome of events in my country.
I will give you further directives as soon as I receive your consent and contact details through my private email. Kindly respond only through my personal email ONLY and not on my official email address to avoid interception by the Government.”
The Wikipedia entry is accurate but where it all got unpicked was that the business entity he claimed to own has not existed for some considerable time. Furthermore, the very idea of establishing dollar accounts in the pretty much anywhere, let alone the UK to receive vast sums of cash, combined with the former inaccuracy, conspired to expose the scam for what it so clearly is.
No direct harm has been done, however as with the former occasion when this column had cause to raise this topic, it incenses the writer intensely that notwithstanding the increasing human tragedy of Syria, the people – men, women, children, elderly, babies who for the 'crime' of an 'accident of birth' grew up in a land where they are now the innocent victims of a wholly avoidable conflict that has wrecked their precious lives, can be indirectly targeted for exploitation even in the imaginary world of the Nigerian scam merchants. That is then in the strongest possible terms, that a scam of this nature, by implication exploits by default, the suffering of millions in the hope of deriving profit indirectly there from and this itself could be described as a crime against humanity.
In the meantime, Syrian peace talks resumed in Geneva on Tuesday (28th Jan) with the warring sides deadlocked over the explosive issue of transferring power from President Bashar al-Assad's regime. “It is not necessary to be Arabic to fall in love with Damascus: It is the City of all mankind.” Having not only worked there but also undergone a 'Damascean experience whilst there, it is entirely possible to understand this maxim and as such it is this columns prayer that the politicians and games-makers in Geneva will come up with a solution sooner rather than later, however much (if not all) will depend on Moscow!