YOU must be telling me that I did the right thing. I must ignore the pleading of a certain Attorney Richard Alakpe from Benin Republic West Africa who promises to share with me 50% of the US$8.5 million stashed in one bank. He introduces himself as a private lawyer to the late Michael Elbo, a Filipino national who used to work as the director of petroleum products of “Total Benin Sarl,” an oil and gas company based in Benin.
Attorney Alakpe claims that Michael and his family (wife and two children) lost their lives in a car accident, leaving dollar-denominated savings in a bank that gave him only 30 days to identify the next of kin or the money will be confiscated by authorities.
Now, the good attorney wants to perform his sworn duty to my “relative” and is asking me about my personal contact details so that I can get information about the money. You know me. I didn’t reach this far only to be tricked by a lawyer. Living in the Philippines all these years has strengthened my resolve to move with extreme caution whenever I deal with lawyers, much more if it involves money.
I’m sure you’ve also received such offer in many forms and variations many times in the past. There’s nothing new about it. In fact, the moment you type the phrase “Benin scam” in your search engine, the first on the auto-fill list is a fraud warning from the United States embassy in Benin.
Now that President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed his pivot to China, I’m almost tempted, if not intrigued to check if there’s a similar warning from a friendly Chinese embassy. Or maybe, they’re busy making more Ma Ling™ products to replace Spam™ from our grocery shelves.
Joking aside, even without checking the Internet, you can readily understand a scam from another scam. At least there are three telltale signs in Attorney Alakpe’s email: One, his letter is full of grammatical and spelling errors. Two, he’s using a generic email address by Yahoo and Gmail. And three, it contains an illogical, if not an outlandish story.
You’ll be asking why I’m giving attention to this scam given the fact that red flags are all over in the Internet. You should also ask that same question to Cormac Herley, the principal researcher at Microsoft Research who did a paper on “Why do Nigerian Scammers say they are from Nigeria?”
Really, one thing that made me curious is they’re now using my blood affinity to someone to arouse my interest. First thing first, do I have a long-lost relative with the name “Michael Elbo?” Sure does. We’re both from Santa Cruz, Laguna. Michael is alive and kicking. But he’s not abroad. He’s happily enjoying life with his young family—a beautiful wife and two young kids.
He’s the former owner of “Bella Patis Labo Food Manufacturing”—maker of creamy, pinkish fish sauce and its abhorrent smell that can be easily be cured by a dose of calamansi (native orange).
Given that, I was tempted to check my other rich, long-lost relatives abroad. My search led me to forebears.io/surnames—a website that gives you an idea where your folks are currently living and working, if not panhandling.
In the website, “surnames are ranked by incidence using the ordinal ranking method; the surname that occurs the most is assigned a rank of 1; surnames that occur less frequently receive an incremented rank; if two or more surnames occur the same number of times they are assigned the same rank and successive rank is incremented by the total preceding surnames.”
As of 2014, the list of 24 countries where the surname “Elbo” was spotted includes Morocco (537), United States (79), Israel (71), Denmark (64) and Chile (36). There’s none in Benin, Africa, but there’s one person in Germany and I hope s/he is in Berlin.
I feel a bit embarrassed to reach that far of checking my relatives from around the globe, to discover if they’re wallowing in wealth. But my investigative journalistic spirit (or whatever is left of it) is pushing me to go on with my research.
From an academic and economic perspective, the website offers an interesting product not only for orphans but scammers as well, except that Attorney Alakpe has not done his homework. It got me thinking. Why doesn’t someone create a website that offers a matchmaking channel for long-lost relatives to share their wealth, with their less-fortunate grandparents, parents, siblings and all? Or maybe, there’s already one running.
Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter for his random thoughts.