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12 Dec 2006

Clinton romance gossip puts Nigerian scam emails in the spotlight

Email scams attempt to fool innocent computer users out of their savings
Email scams attempt to fool innocent computer users out of their savings

Experts at SophosLabs™ have reminded computer users of the threat posed by so-called "Letters from Nigeria" as rumors of Chelsea Clinton's new boyfriend have been published in the press.

American tabloid stories have reported that Chelsea, former first daughter and Bill and Hillary Clinton's only child, is secretly dating young investment banker Marc Mezvinsky. The relationship has thrown into the spotlight the curious story of Mezvinsky's father, former Iowa congressman Ed Mezvinsky, who is currently serving a prison sentence for fraud.

Ed Mezvinsky, who was at one time an ambassador to a United Nations commission, turned his back on politics in the 1990s and fell victim to a number of "advanced fee fraud" schemes (also known as "419 scams") originating from Africa that promised great wealth. To continue participating in the schemes, Mezvinsky used money stolen from others and was convicted in 2003 on 31 counts of fraud. It is estimated that in total $10.4 million was defrauded from banks and individuals.

"The story of the rise and fall of Ed Mezvinsky acts as a useful warning that anyone can be caught off guard and fall for a 'Letter from Nigeria'. These emails promise riches, but are actually con tricks designed to leave you out of pocket. Everyone should be suspicious about unsolicited emails," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "It's perhaps no surprise that Chelsea Clinton has been trying to keep her relationship secret, for fear of her boyfriend's dad bringing political embarrassment to her parents."

419 scams are named after the relevant section of the Nigerian penal code where many of the scams originated and are unsolicited emails where the author offers a large amount of money. Once a victim has been drawn in, requests are made from the fraudster for private information which may lead to requests for money, stolen identities, and financial theft.

"Although many of these con tricks originate in Nigeria, the victims may be as far away as the United States, UK or Australia," continued Cluley. "419 email scams are a global problem and users need to be aware of the threat to avoid ending up in the kind of mess that Mezvinsky has found himself in."

Sophos recommends that businesses protect themselves with a consolidated solution against the threats of spam, spyware and viruses; and that users exercise caution when receiving unsolicited emails.

Ed Mezvinsky is expected to be released in November 2008.

About Sophos

More than 100 million users in 150 countries rely on Sophos as the best protection against complex threats and data loss. Sophos is committed to providing complete security solutions that are simple to deploy, manage, and use and that deliver the industry's lowest total cost of ownership. Sophos offers award-winning encryption, endpoint security, web, email, mobile and network security solutions backed by SophosLabs - a global network of threat intelligence centers.

Sophos is headquartered in Boston, US and Oxford, UK. More information is available at www.sophos.com.