Scams from Abuja to Reykjavik

March 4, 2010

It suffered the collapse of its currency, economy and banking system so being invoked in a version of the notorious Nigerian email scam is one of the smaller humiliations endured by Iceland.

The confidence trick, which has roots in the 18th century, usually involves an email from someone claiming to be either a deposed African dictator or a Nigerian lawyer, promising a sum of money in return for help to access a substantial fortune.

But the latest spam email making its rounds purports to be from Iceland, one of the highest profile sovereign casualties of the global financial crisis. This version of the email is supposedly from a “devoted christian (sic)” from Iceland”, a widow seeking help to access $6 million in a Canadian bank left to her by her husband who worked for an oil giant for 19 years.

Besides the grammatical errors, the email stretches credulity with the notion that the widow’s husband would have chosen to park his savings at a Canadian bank rather than the Icelandic ones that would have — at least until their collapse late 2008 — offered interest rates in excess of over six percent.

These high-flying banks, which once took in so-called Icesave retail deposits in London and Amsterdam, are now at the centre of a dispute that pits the North Atlantic island nation of 320,000 people against Britain and the Netherlands.

Iceland’s failed to agree with the Dutch and British on new terms to repay the more than $5 billion lost by their savers when its banks went to the wall, with the stumbling block over whether the repayment should be based on floating or fixed interest rates

A referendum on the present deal, set to go ahead this weekend, is expected to result in an overwhelming ‘no’ vote and lead to a further delay in the resumption of overseas fund inflows.

So perhaps Icelanders are particularly immune to Nigerian email scams — the threat of greater economic hardship seems to be doing little to persuade them to stump up money up front for the promise of greater future riches.

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