New e-mail scam cashes in on Arafat's legacy

A new e-mail scam, which uses the name of Yasser Arafat’s widow is being circulated on the internet to con unsuspecting e-mail users. Unlike the notorious Nigerian mail scams, this new phishing attempt earns credibility by drawing on facts surrounding the enormity of the late Arafat's undisclosed financial assets.

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By  Maddy Reddy Published  November 18, 2004

The name of Yasser Arafat’s widow, Suha Arafat, is being used to con anyone sympathetic to her situation. Residents in Dubai have been approached with the attempted fraud, which is all the more credible because it contains a number of facts woven into the story reported Gulf News, a UAE based English daily newspaper. Similar to the Nigerian 419 e-mail scams, the reported e-mail offers e-mail users a share of a US$20 million that was reportedly transferred out of Palestine. In reality Suha Arafat, Arafat’s wife of 13 years and mother of his nine-year-old daughter, Zahwa lives in Paris and receives monthly payments of US$100,000 from the Palestinian government. Phishing attacks use 'spoofed' e-mails and fraudulent websites designed to fool recipients into divulging personal financial data such as credit card numbers, account usernames and passwords, social security numbers, etc. By hijacking the trusted brands of well-known banks, online retailers and credit card companies, and even celebrities phishers are able to convince up to 5% of recipients to respond to them. Several Fortune 500 companies globally and multinationals such as HSBC, Citibank in the Middle East have reported and alerted their customers of similar scams, but on a corporate level earlier this year. Targeted at the UAE’s 300,000 plus internet users primarily and thousands of internet users especially in Palestine who are still reeling under the sad news, the e-mail's author says she has deposited US$20 million with an unnamed security firm abroad. The letter says: “I am Mrs Suha Arafat, the wife of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader who died recently in Paris. Since Yasser’s death and even prior to the announcement, I have been thrown into a state of antagonism, confusion, humiliation, frustration and hopelessness by the present leadership of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the new prime minister. I have even been subjected to physical and psychological torture. As a widow who is so traumatised, I have lost confidence with everybody in the country at the moment.” She writes: “I shall be grateful if you could receive this fund into your bank account for safe keeping and any investment opportunity. This arrangement will be known to you and my personal attorney. He might be dealing with you directly for security reasons.” “If you are willing to assist for our mutual benefit, we will have to negotiate on your share of the US$20 million that will be kept in your possession for a while and invested in your name for my trust pending when my daughter, Zahwa, comes of age and takes full responsibility of her family estate/inheritance.” “You must have heard from media reports and the internet about the discovery of some funds in my husband’s secret bank account and companies and the allegations of some huge sums of money deposited by my husband in my name, which I have refused to disclose or give up to the corrupt Palestine Government. In fact, the total sum allegedly discovered by the government so far is to the tune of about US$6.5 billion. And they are not relenting on their effort to make me poor for life.” “Please note that this is a golden opportunity that comes once in a lifetime and more so, if you are honest, I am going to entrust more funds in your care as this is one of the legacies we keep for our children,” she pleads. The phishing letter, tries to substantiate its authenticity by quoting supporters: “The Palestinian National Authority received hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from the United States, Europe, Arab countries and development agencies to revive its moribund economy.” Not far from the genuineness of the e-mail is Yasser Arafat’s own private wealth, which is currently under scrutiny. Earlier this month, during the Palestine leader’s medical treatment in Paris, several media reports and financial analysts raised questions about the future of billions of dollars in funds, which till date were controlled by Arafat. During his 40-year tenure as the head of PLO, large amounts of money were reportedly donated, or raised through business and taxes, were paid directly into accounts in Arafat's own name. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) adds that international aid to the Palestinian Authority was more than US$1 billion a year since 2000. Similarly, last year Forbes estimated the late leader’s wealth at US$300 million ranking him at number six in a royalty and leaders wealth list. Jaweed al-Ghussein, a former PLO finance minister, told the Associated Press alleged it was worth US$3 billion to US$5 billion when he quit in 1996. For a decade, the PLO he claims received about US$200 million a year, US$85 million of it from Saudi Arabia, all of which adds up to well over US$2 billion in external funding alone.

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