My name is Elena and I live in small city in Russia.

You may have seen one or more of these in your inbox in the last few days:

My name is Elena and I live in small city in Russia. I have a little daughter and no husband since he left us. Due to deep crisis recently I losted job and can not pay the heating bills for our home anymore. I finded your address at website and decided to write you from a public library. We urgent need heating because winter arriving and the temperature in our home is very cold. We can heat our home with a portable woodburner, but we unable buy it because it cost too much for us. If you own any old transportable woodburner from cast iron which you don’t use anymore, I pray you can gift to us and transport of it to us.
I hope for your answer.

Okay – it’s obviously a scam, but it’s interesting as it’s getting through most spam filters. It actually originates from Tellas in Greece, from mail servers that aren’t blacklisted – although today it moved on to ADSL lines.

Reading the text, it’s  reminiscent of various “I’m a poor Russian in trouble” panhandles that appear annually at about this time of year. If you reply (it’s been tried) the person at the other end will suggest that instead of sending the stove you just send the money as she can buy one from the local market for a figure just under $200.

What I’m not so sure of is that the scammer is actually even Russian in this instance, as the language isn’t quite right. Russian speakers (in fact most East Europeans) are notoriously bad at using the definite or indefinite article (‘it’ or ‘a’) because it doesn’t exist in their language. This person fails to use it pretty consistently  thus sounding like a Russian trying to speak English, but slips up with “…buy it because it cost…”. She also has “…a little daughter…”. It suggests American, as a linguist friend pointed out, because of the use of “home” instead of “house” and “woodburner” instead of “wood burning stove”.

You might wonder why on earth the request is for a cast iron stove. Are the collecting them from scrap iron? Well, no – when you think about it, if you offer them a stove the shipping will be prohibitively expensive (they are heavy) so you can save money by simply sending the cash.

Anyone up on this kind of thing will  have been thinking “Valentin Mikhaylin” from the start. Okay, he changed the name to Elana in 2007 (or sometimes Valentin and his mother, Elana), but the stove story has been used for at least ten years. It has all the hallmarks, except one: This year the spams are getting through. This could be the scammer’s undoing – as everyone is receiving multiple copies it’s lost all plausibility in 2012. So what will 2013 be about, one wonders?

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