E-mail hoax targets generous Jews

A new version of the Nigerian e-mail scam plays on fears of anti-Semitism, coaxing unsuspecting Jews to part with their money to help solve an imaginary crisis half a world away.

Worried that South Florida Jews could fall victim, the Anti-Defamation League has sent out about 4,000 e-mails to Jewish leaders in the area warning them of the hoax.

“We Jews are suffering here,” the bogus e-mail reads. “We need your financial assistance to protect our lives and property.”

The e-mail, with the subject line “There is a new anti-Semitism: Please help the Jews” claims that “black men have been killing Jews in this country” and that 159 Jews have been kidnapped.

Andrew Rosenkranz, ADL’s Florida regional director, said he fears the e-mail will inevitably wind up in South Florida inboxes and worries people will respond to it.

“It’s such a hot button issue with the Jewish community and it brings up something that has been at the forefront of Jewish history,” he said. “You are targeting specifically something that is very much in the forefront of Jewish consciousness.”

At least four people who received the e-mail in Texas reported it to the ADL office in Houston, inquiring whether there really were mass killings and kidnappings.

Southwest Regional Director Martin Cominsky said not only does the ADL not know of any killings or kidnappings of Jews in West Africa, he said he doesn’t think any Jews live there at all.

“That’s why it’s so ludicrous,” he said. “It’s another chance at a hoax.”

The Nigerian e-mail scam is known for playing on people’s greed. Fraudsters send an unsolicited e-mail asking for help depositing a large sum of money in a U.S. bank account. The scammers promise to give a cut to the victim, often in the millions of dollars. In these so-called advance-fee scams, the victim is told to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars before getting the big payoff.

The new scam is different in that it preys on victims’ kindness, not their greed.

“Anything emanating from Nigeria I would be very careful about,” said Allen Lowe, a specialist on Nigerian fraud and assistant to the special agent in charge at the U.S. Secret Service Miami field office.

Scammers “are very good about adjusting to ongoing world events,” he said. “They constantly reinvent themselves. And the public has a very short memory.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday May 27, 2007.
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