I got a letter from an Israeli friend a couple hours ago, in which she was asking me if the guy who had sent her the following email could be trusted:
From: "Valentin" <email@example.com>
Sent: Wednesday, November 02, 2005 5:59 AM
Subject: Request from Russia
Please excuse me for any inconvience caused by this message.
My name is Valentin. I'm a student and I live with my mother in suburb of city Kaluga, Russia, that is 200km from Moscow. My mother is invalid. She cannot see and she receives pension from the government very rare which is not enough even for medications.
I work very hard every day to be able to buy the necessities and medications for my mother, but my salary is very small, because my studies still not finished.
Due to the crisis our authorities recently stoped gas in our district and we cannot heat our home anymore. I don't know what to do, because the winter is coming and the temperature in the street will be lower than minus 20 degrees Celsius. I'm very afraid that the temperature inside our home will be very cold and we will not be able to survive.
I applied to our local Red Cross and they said me that many people apply for help every day and they cannot help to each poor family. They adviced me to apply to the Red Cross located in Moscow, since they have more possibilities to help. I sent them a letter and they asked for documents confirming our situation. I sent the documents and within a month they answered me that they help only to the people living in Moscow and adviced me to appeal for help to private people.
Thanks to the free internet access at our library I was able to find different e-mail addresses and I decided to appeal to you with a prayer in my heart for a small help.
If you have any old sleeping bag, warm blanket, warm clothes, any portable heater, canned food, vitamins, medicines against cold, any hygiene-products, I will be very grateful to you if you could send it to our postal address:
Ryleeva Ulitsa, 6-45.
If you think that it would be better or easier for you to help with some money, please write me back and I will give you details for sending it safely if you agree. This way to help is very good because in this case I will be able to buy a portable stove and heat our room during the winter.
I hope to hear from you very soon and I pray that you will be able to help us to survive this winter. I also hope very much that this hard situation will get better very soon in our country.
I'm sending to you many thanks in advance for your kind understanding. Please excuse me, once more, for any inconvience I could cause you by sending this message.
God Bless You,
Valentin and my Mother.
I googled the guy, first in Russian, then in English.
In Russian, I found an April 18, 2000, story in Noviye Izvestia right away: in addition to the numerous letters like the one above, he and his friend also sent out a message signed by the military guys with access to some really scary missiles (SS-19 or something), who claimed their living conditions were so horrible they were prepared to annihilate several European cities, unless the Russian authorities do something to improve the situation. The FBI and the Austrian special services got involved in the investigation, along with the Russian FSB - and they found the guy pretty soon, because Kaluga is a small place with not so many internet users. He wasn't tried, however, because of his age and the amnesty that was announced later that year. (The military guys, according to Noviye Izvestia, for once received their pay on time after the incident.)
The guy continued with his business, which, according to Noviye Izvestia, was bringing him plenty of packages from the naive, kind people around the globe.
Below are some links to his letters:
- in bad German: here;
- a 2000 variation of the 'cold winter' theme: here;
- a 2002 variation of the 'cold winter' theme: here;
- a selection of letters from various years (the last one with a request to some Italians to send tapes with Italian music): here;
- a 'plea for help' message that some poor Brit (who's already packing his donation) has posted on some board (I've just sent him a letter and hope it's not too late!..): here.
Amazing, isn't it?
Update: Oh, how sad... That British guy has already sent off his parcel to Kaluga... And he is aware it's a hoax... Here's his update:
I received a touching email from a student calling himself Valetin from Kaluga, Russia yesterday begging for items to help him and his mother keep warm this winter. It sounded so genuine and I felt so sorry for them I did stupidly send a parcel. Oh silly me, it is just another nasty scam. These people really are the pits! I hope they sleep well at night with my favourite soft blanket, tins of soup, gloves, jumpers and vitamins!
Apparently, any parcels in Russia have a huge stamp duty slapped on them immediately they arrive there so the recipient can't even afford to collect them! God knows who will get the benefit from it then and why did my local post office not warn me of this as I explained what it was. Needs some notices up in post offices!
Thanks to all those that have emailed since saying they too nearly fell for this hoax plea. Makes me feel better that I am not the only soft touch around!
Sadly it makes us cynical about any genuine requests for help which makes for a pretty uncaring world don’t you think?
If I should hear anything back (which I sincerely doubt) as my parcel would have arrived there today I will post it up on this page.