Internet users are being bombarded with millions of emails purporting to be from the personal secretary of imprisoned Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
The emails offer $10 million if the email recipient will assist in the transfer of approximately $45 million of Khodorkovsky's fortune.
Khodorkovsky, who was the chief executive officer of Russian oil company Yukos, was arrested at gunpoint at a Siberian airfield in 2003 and is serving an 8-year prison sentence on tax and fraud charges.
Experts have warned computer users that this is a ruse to steal personal details, and that the fraudsters behind the scam campaign are using the information to steal money from bank accounts and commit identity fraud.
"Originally we saw the scammers sending their messages about Khodorkovsky in Russian, but now they are spreading their wings and sending their scam emails all around the world in English. The notoriety of the case against the Yukos CEO has made his fame a prime target for exploitation by internet criminals," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "Email users should be on their guard not to believe everything they receive via email."
This email scam is the latest of many 419 scams. These scams are named after the relevant section of the Nigerian penal code where many of the scams originated and are unsolicited emails whereby 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.
Other examples of 419 email scams include a message claiming to come from a persecuted widow of the late Nigerian head of state, an associate of the massacred Nepalese royal family, and, weirdly enough, even an African astronaut stranded on the Mir space station.