Is this *your* passport being used by email scammers?

Filed Under: Featured, Spam

PassportChances are that you see your fair share of email scams.

You know the kind of thing - "you have won a Euro lottery" (not that you ever entered it), "you have been identified as the heir to a gigantic fortune" (not that you're really related to the deceased individual) or simply "millions of dollars have fallen into our lap following the death of Libya's Colonel Gaddafi, would you look after it for us?"

Normally I simply delete the emails. But a couple of weeks ago I received an email from "Karen Shaw" and decided to respond.

Here's what the email said:

Scam email

Although she didn't reveal it in her opening email, a subsequent conversation revealed that Karen had a financial problem. Although she was waiting to receive 10 million dollars that were owed to her, she had to clear her husband's debts first.

Email from 'Karen Shaw'

Reading between the lines, it sounds as if Karen will give me some money if I will simply help her pay the £15,000 debt.

Email from 'Karen Shaw'

Golly! Karen says she will give me $200,000 immediately if I give her $15,000. That's quite a return!

What's more, even though I haven't asked for it, Karen has also scanned and attached a copy of her passport.

Passport of 'Karen Shaw'. Click for larger version

Obviously I have no way of knowing if that really is the passport of the person emailing me, whether it has been Photoshopped or is simply a passport that has been stolen from an innocent member of the public. I've pixellated some of the information just to be on the safe side.

It was round about this time that Karen's solicitor got in touch. He emailed me saying he was representing Karen in the upcoming transaction, and declared that his name was "Churchill Spencer".

Legal document from Churchill Spencer

Not only did Churchill Spencer demonstrate that he was a master at Microsoft Word, but he seemed to also be someone who I could put my trust in, as his name rang seemed to ring a vague bell and have an air of authority about it.

Although I suggested Mr Spencer get in touch with my legal team ("Chamberlain Neville" of Abingdon), I ultimately decided not to pursue the opportunity.

And you shouldn't either. If someone contacts you out of the blue, offering you something which sounds too good to be true - it almost certainly is.

You may not fall for a scam like this, but you may know elderly or vulnerable people who would. Please look out on their behalf, and help them not to make a very expensive mistake.

Update: Thanks to Naked Security readers who pointed out that the image in the passport is that of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. As @Madincroydon points out the very same picture can be seen in this news story from 2009 about Gillard's trip to India.

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9 Responses to Is this *your* passport being used by email scammers?

  1. Angie Hope · 1207 days ago

    That passport photo actually looks like a younger Julier Gillard hahah, our Prime Minister!!

  2. Karen · 1207 days ago

    That person in the photo is Australia's Prime Minister - Julia Gillard

    She's not American, and as far as I'm aware, she's never held an American passport...

    .....a British one perhaps, but definitely an Australian one :]

  3. Tony H · 1207 days ago

    "Obviously I have no way of knowing if that really is the passport of the person emailing me..." Hmmm, even with JENNIFER spelt as JENIFFER in the lowest line?!

    • Tony · 1205 days ago

      It is obvious that English is not this fraud perpetrator's native language.

      "SINCE THEN I COULD NOT GAIN MYSELF" - The use of the word "gain" rather than help indicates that the scammer is probably using an online translator that does not always recognize the context in which words are used.

      "IN FATAL ACCIDENT" and "WOMAN WHO NEED LOAN" - Again demonstrates that the native language is not English by the omission of the article "a".

      Businessman is rendered as "BUSINESS MAN"

      This person is either Indian or African.

      One glaring fraud indicator is the appearance of the guilloche which is a security feature that ties the photo to the data page. The guilloche is the interwoven line structure design that encompasses "USA" and is partly over the photo. It lacks the fine line detail of the original.

  4. Alex W · 1207 days ago

    Nice writeup. Do you get paid to be playing around with scammers like this? :)

  5. S Hofman · 1207 days ago

    You are right saying that an elderly person is sooner to 'obey' to these requests....but I wonder how many younsters fall for these kind of scams. Personally I always delete these emails and report them as spam...... Still, it's a shame people try and collect other peoples hard earned cash this way.
    - Very good article by the way - two thumbs up.

  6. Taylor Johnson · 1206 days ago

    The photo on the passport is Julia Gillard the Prime Minister of Australia. =P

  7. Internaut · 1206 days ago

    One of the many scams floating around; complete with bad grammar, english, and obviously, short on brains.

    The government would be working diligently to protect the public from losing their hard earned money from being a good Samaritan, shore up financial institutions security, and better online protection for the public. Then I remembered, they are too busy protecting Hollywood from people uploading to mega-servers.

  8. missannthropethefirst · 1205 days ago

    Funny how her passport has a design that wasn't implemented until the middle of 2007. She must be a time traveler!

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog at, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Follow him on Twitter at @gcluley