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Valentin Mikhaylin

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Valentin Mikhaylin Index


Country: Russian Federation
State: Kaluga Oblast
Since 1999, Valentin Mikhaylin spams to send email appeals across the Internet, where he asks for help (goods, money) to be sent to his home in Kaluga.


Valentin Mikhaylin SBL Listings History
Current SBL Listings
Archived SBL Listings

Valentin's appeal


From snopes.com [http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/scams/valentin.asp]:

Claim: A student in Russia named Valentin Mikhaylin needs your financial assistance to heat his apartment, buy food, and provide medical care for his ailing mother.

Status: False

Origins: Valentin Mikhaylin, a young man who lives in Kaluga, Russia, and who represents himself as a student starving and on the verge of freezing to death, has been spamhandling on the Internet since 1998. His e-mailed appeals are generally loosed upon the unsuspecting in November of each year, perhaps because the final month before Christmas tends to spark the charitable impulse in the greatest number of people, leaving a larger number than usual vulnerable to scams such as this.

Over the years, the details given in his annual appeal for financial assistance have changed. In 1999 and 2000 he presented himself as the spokesperson for a group of workers in Russia that had not received their pay in months and whose parents were having to sell blood just to put food on the table. Notice that the invalids, according to him, were not receiving "any money from the government":

[samples]

In November 2001, he presented himself as a college student living with an invalid mother and brother. These two disabled family members, he said, received small pensions from the government:

[samples]

In 2002, he described himself as a 20-year-old college student, still living with an invalid mother (now said to be blind; her affliction had not previously been mentioned) and brother, but this time saying his mother received a government pension while his brother did not:

[samples]

In 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006, he was once again an impoverished college student living with his mother, but no reference was made to his having a brother, invalid or otherwise:

[samples]

In 2007 the annual scam was circulated yet again, but that time naming the letter's sender as Elena, the woman identified in previous finagles as Valentin's mother. That time around, Elena was presented as a 30-year-old abandoned single mother with a 6-year-old daughter named Angelina, and there was no mention of Valentin or his brother:

[samples]

In a second 2007 version of the scam, the appeal once again reverted to Valentin. In that version, he was no longer a college student, but instead now had "a cardio-vascular illness." His mother was still represented as a blind woman who received a small pension from the government which was "not enough even for medications."

[samples]

The 2008 version once again had Valentin living with his blind mother whose "indemnity is not enough even for food and medications," but Valentin makes no mention of 2007's "cardio-vascular illness," instead presenting himself as someone who recently lost his job and now is holding a temp position that will last for only a couple of weeks:

[samples]

According to a 2000 article run in a Russian daily, Valentin Mikhaylin, then a 17-year-old student at the builders' technical school in Kaluga, began his online panhandling career by sending "Please help us!" e-mails that detailed the projected plight of the Russian poor for the winter of 1998-1999 and asked recipients to contact ham radio clubs and individuals to get them to send help. That article claims between December 1998 and January 1999, the Mikhaylins (Valentin, his elder brother, and his mother) received 79 envelopes from abroad in response to that entreaty. They took in an additional 24 envelopes and 48 parcels during the first five months of 1999. These various postings contained a variety of durable items, food, and money.

While it could be concluded the success of that 1998 begging spree prompted a nascent scam artist to attempt similar frauds each succeeding year, the Oxpaha.ru article referenced above says that a 1999 inquiry ordered by the Moscow international post office described the perpetrators as "... the Michajlin family, long known to us, who have been busy with international begging for many years." Valentina Savina, the director of that agency, wrote of the Mikhaylins as "these people [who] describe themselves as penniless invalids and disseminate slanderous information regarding the wrongs that they have suffered."

That same article details a number of battles between Valentin Mikhaylin and the Internet service provider in his area, the local phone company, and the post office. (Subsequent to his e-mailed plea for help, his box was receiving so many parcels that the service deemed his operation a money-making enterprise and attempted to charge him the business rate for his box.) Rather than delve into each of his business squabbles, we note the salient point of those episodes is his being "sent to a prison for temporary detention" over his mode of handling his dispute with the postal service (i.e, distributing a leaflet defaming it, including tacking up a copy within the post office proper).

Mikhaylin's methods for handling exposure of his money-making fraud enterprise appear equally unsavory. According to Paolo Attivissimo, the webmaster who posted the English translation of the Oxapa.ru article on his site:

First he [Mikhaylin] threatened me with an international lawsuit, which so far has failed to materialize. Then he claimed that he had found classified advertisements of mine in gay Websites, seeking young men for sex, and indeed I subsequently received few offers (which I politely declined); I didn't post the ads, so I presume someone planted them in an attempt to harass me. Then he contacted Paypal.com and asked them to close my account because, he said, I was a slanderer (Paypal refused). He then tried to block my e-mail account at Pobox.com by again claiming that I was a slanderer (Pobox refused). There have also been two separate instances in which my e-mail address was used as apparent source of a spamming campaign. Analysis of the headers of this spam shows that the sender was using Moscow time. In a third instance, several blogs and discussion groups were spammed with a poorly written advert about my website, which also gave my personal details and used almost verbatim the text of personal e-mails that Valentin had sent to me.

Frauds like these succeed because those perpetrating them frame their solicitations as heart-rending stories about suffering that you, kindhearted person that you are, could alleviate by sending an array of goods or just plain old-fashioned money. The Internet has made the con artist's job easier: he no longer has to go face-to-face with the clientele he's looking to plunder and so generally doesn't risk his marks' figuring out that they're being had. In this case, only the persistence of the grifter brought him to our attention - year after year he's been hitting the Internet with variations on the same con. Had he been less perseverant, had he instead hit once and run, we'd have never caught on to him.

We've said this before, but it bears repeating: Beware the pull on your heartstrings - it's often the pursestrings that are actually being reached for.

Barbara "string theory" Mikkelson


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The Register of Known Spam Operations (ROKSO) collates information and evidence on entities with a history of spamming or providing spam services, and entities affiliated or otherwise connected with them, for the purpose of assisting ISP Abuse Desks and Law Enforcement Agencies.
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