I do a lot of editing for a scientist who has become a friend, and it seems he has been scammed by a fraudulent research grant scheme. People posing as representatives of the Robertson Foundation invited him by email to apply for a grant. He applied and received a grant of over $350,000, or at least they said he would get it, but only if he gives them money for a variety of advance fees and taxes, and a ‘parliament code’.
Everything about the emails smacked of a scam (but unfortunately, my friend didn’t show them to anybody until he’d already paid out a lot of money). They had strange domain names, and all showed bad grammar and exactly the same grammatical errors. For my friend English is his third language, and so he didn’t spot the linguistic clues.
He was given a link to open a bank account. The link led to a fake website pretending to be BBVA bank in the UK, and of course he had to deposit money via the site to open the account. Then he could see the money in the account, but of course the whole website was a fake.
Since he told me about this I’ve done quite a bit of research. I found that there really is a Robertson Foundation, and I also found the phone number of their office in New York, so I phoned them (found via http://start.cortera.com/company/research/k3q4ryo5q/robertson-foundation/). I also contacted the real BBVA bank in the UK (having been given the phone number by the American BBVA Compass Bank website chat line). Neither organisation is involved, and both confirm it’s all a scam and there is no grant, the bank account isn’t real, and my friend has lost his money.
It just goes to show that even a scientist with more PhDs than you can poke a stick at can be caught by a scam.
So, be warned. Names the scammer used included:
Harrison Orifice (seriously!)
Dr John Hood
All the email addresses looked suspicious or odd in one way or another. For example, Dr Hood is a real person, but the email address was a free one, and he replied to my friend’s request for confirmation of the grant using exactly the same grammatical errors as the others.
The websites my friend was pointed to are:
http://robertsonfoundation.org/and http://www.bbvac.bngrp.org/en/personal/apply.php The second one is now closed down but I saw it before it went down. I even used it to apply for an account with just a fake name and no further details. This was accepted. The next step was to choose whether to open an account with $1,500 (I forget the exact amount) or over $2,000.
The Robertson Foundation is a real thing, but it looks to me like this website might be a fake. There’s no address, no phone, no contact us, and when you use DomainTools.com to check it out, it’s owned by an individual called Hasan Mamood, but the street address given is the same as the Robertson Foundation’s address, and his email address is at Tiger Fund, which is a real fund run by Julian Robertson. It doesn’t matter. I phoned the real Robertson Foundation, and they told me they don’t approach people by email to invite them to apply for a grant, and that it is a scam.
The addresses on the BBVAC site are definitely fakes because I sent all the details to the real bank and they told me they are nothing to do with them. There is no BBVA branch in Bristol, which is where the emails said the branch was. All the details and emails on the site are fake. (I had confirmation from BBVA on this.) The phone number given in the emails doesn’t work.
He was first asked for a few hundred dollars, and then money to open the account, then hundreds more for this and thousands more for that. It eventually added up to over $10,000 and they still wanted more. They said he couldn’t get the grant money because he had ‘tax-coded it’ and they couldn’t get it back either. Then the scammer started telling him he had tried to help him out by putting in his own money, which he couldn’t afford. They pulled at every psychological string they could, and persisted for weeks afterwards in trying to get him to pay another $3,000.
I could go on, but won’t. I wanted to post something on this in case someone else is getting scammed. If you want more info on the scam please contact me. It has been reported to police in the UK and the country my friend lives in.
While I was researching this I found this link, which is also useful: