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Valentin's Appeal

Scam: 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.

Examples:   [Collected via e-mail, 1999]

Dear Colleagues,

Please excuse us for any inconveniences we could cause you by our message. As you know, now Russia has a deep financial and economic crisis. We already for some months do not receive our salary. Our parents and invalids also do not receive pensions and forced to hand over blood to buy necessary for live foodstuffs. Because of all it, our children are constantly hungry and ill from cold and exhaustion.

Unfortunately, everybody in our country already has reconciled and are sure, that soon all simple people as we will die from starvation, and our mad politicians will continue to play in the silly political games.

Therefore, we, due to a service opportunity of access in the Internet and hopeless situation have decided apply to you with request to help us with food-stuffs, warmth clothes or money so that we could buy food-stuffs and things of primary necessity for our children here.

Please note that because of starvation, we need mostly the following:

a. Dried food
b. Canned food
c. Multivitamins
d. Chocolate
e. Coffee and tea


Also we need clothes and shoes. Now the weather here is very cold. Therefore we need warmth men clothes which are sizes L and XL. We need these big sizes as our children and we will be dressing under these clothes our old clothes. It will allow constantly being in heat. The men shoes we need are the sizes 44 - 45.

Please send your help to our mailing address is:

Valentin Mikhaylin
Ryleeva Street, 6-45
Kaluga. 248030
R u s s i a.

In case if you willing to send money, please let us know and we will inform you some details how it might be sent.

We hope very much for any help, are sending you our warmest wishes and looking forward to your reply.

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New 2000 Year.

Greetings from your Russian Friends,

A group of needy people from Russia.
 

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 phony "person in distress" scams such as this one.

Over the years, the details given in his annual appeal for financial assistance have changed. In the 1999 and 2000 versions (quoted above and below, respectively), 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":
Date: November 14, 2000

Dear Friends:

Please excuse us for any inconveniences we could cause you by our message.

As you know, Russia is now in a deep financial and economic crisis. We already for some months do not receive our salary. Our parents, invalids and war heroes do not receive any money from the government, and are forced to sell their own blood each month to buy enough food to keep alive. Because of all it, our children are permanently hungry and sick due to cold and exhaustion.

Unfortunately, everybody in our country already has reconciled and are sure, that soon all simple people as we will die from starvation. The only chance we have to survive is to use service access to the internet at our work to appeal to you directly for help: we desperately need food, warm clothing or money so that we could buy food-stuffs and things of primary necessity first for children, and then for ourselves.

What little food we have is just enough to keep us alive - for the time being - but for proper nourishment we need the following:

a. Dried food
b. Canned food (meat and fish)
c. Dry milk, dry potatoes.
c. Multivitamins, tea.
d Necessary things for hygiene
e. Warm clothes and shoes.

If you can donate anything at all to help us, please send it to this address:

Valentin Mikhaylin
Ryleeva Street., 6-45
Kaluga. 248030
Russia.

If you are considering sending money, please contact us and we will give you details on the best way of sending it safely. It is a very good way to help, because money cannot be stolen on the way to us, like parcels, and now because of the current crisis prices in Russia are much lower than in the West.

We hope very much for any help, are sending you our warmest wishes and looking forward to your reply.

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New 2001-Year.

Your Fiends from Russia,

Valentin and our group.
Russia.
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:
Kaluga, 4 November, 2001.

Dear Friends,

Please excuse me for any inconvenience caused by this message. My name is Valentin and I'm a student of our local college. I live with my mother and brother in the city of Kaluga, Russia. It is located 200km south from the city of Moscow.

I grew up without a father. He left our family when I was two-years-old. My mother and brother are invalids and they receive a pension very rare from the government which is very small and not enough even for supporting our lives.

I take care of my family alone. During the summer I was able to grow some vegetables at our small garden and it helped us to be alive for the last three months.

Unfortunately the winter is setting in and I'm very afraid. Our television informs us that the coming winter is going to be very cold, like in the last year, when it was minus 56 degrees Celsius. I do not know if we could survive during the coming winter, because we don't have food and warm clothing.

Therefore, I, due to a service opportunity of access to the Internet at our college and hopeless situation have decided apply to you with request to help my family. If you have any old warm clothes which you are not using anymore, as well as anything that is possible to eat, I would be very happy if you could send it to our home address is:

Valentin Mikhaylin,
Ryleeva Street, 6-45
Kaluga. 248030
Russia.

I hope very much for your help. If you think that it is better to help with a little money, please write back and I will give you details on the best way of sending it safely. It is a very good way to help, because of the current crisis prices in our country are very low.

I'm sending you warmest wishes. I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New 2002 Year.

God Bless You,

Valentin and my family.
Kaluga. Russia.
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:
Dear Friend,

Please excuse me for any inconvenience caused by this message. I would never send a message like this, but our hopeless situation forces me to send it.

My name is Valentin, I'm 20 years old and I'm a student. I live with my mother and brother in the city of Kaluga, Russia. We had two grandfathers, but they died during this year. My mother is an invalid. She cannot see and she receives an indemnity from the government very rare which is not enough even for supporting our lives.

My brother is an invalid, too, since the accident happened 5 years ago. A big part of his body is paralized. The government does not pay any indemnity to him and to many other Russian invalids.

Since several years I take care of my mother and brother. The Russian government does not help us because of the current crisis and the corruption in Russia. I have a small piece of land in the forest where I grow vegetables during the summer, but this summer was very hot and it was not raining, therefore all the vegetables became dried.

I'm very afraid that the cold winter is setting in and my family has nothing to eat afterwards. The last winter was very cold and the temperature was minus 25-30 degrees Celsius. It seems that all of us are doomed to the starvation and death.

The only chance we have to survive is to use the free public access to the internet during the evening at the High School when it is possible. I have found several e-mail addresses, including yours, that is why I have decided to appeal to you directly for a small help. If you have anything that is possible to eat, as well as any old warm clothes sized as L and XL which you are not using anymore, I would be more than happy if you could send it to our home address is:

Valentin Mikhaylin,
Ryleeva Street, 6-45
Kaluga. 248030
Russia

If you think that it would be better or easier to send some money, please write me back and I will give you the details for sending it safely if you agree. That way to help is also very good because of the crisis foodstuffs in Russia are not expensive.

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 Russia.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2003. I'm sending to you many thanks in advance for your kind understanding. Please excuse me, once more, for any inconvience caused by this message.

God Bless You,

Valentin and my family.
Kaluga. Russia.
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:
Dear Friend,

I send you this message from a library of our small city and I hope very much that this message has reached your address.

My name is Valentin, I'm a student and I live with my blind mother in Russia. I work very hard every day to be able to take care of my mother, but my salary is very small because my studies are not finished.

Due to the crisis our authorities stoped gas in our small city and now I cook food for my mother and me by making a fire near our home. Now we cannot heat our home because we don't have gas anymore and I don't know what to do, because the winter is coming and the temperature outside will be minus 30 degrees Celsius. I'm afraid that the temperature inside our home can be lower than 0 degrees and we will not be able to survive.

Therefore I send you this desperate message with a prayer in my heart and I hope you can help us. If you have any old warm blankets, sleeping bags, portable heater or any other things which can help us during the winter, as well as any high-calories food-stuffs, I will be very grateful to you if you could send it to our postal address which is:

Valentin Mihailin,
Ryleeva Street, 6-45,
Kaluga. 248030,
Russia.

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 the details for sending it safely if you agree. This way to help is very good because the necessities here are not very expensive.

I pray to hear from you soon. From all my heart I wish you Happiness, Love and Peace.

God Bless You,

Valentin and my Mother Elena.
Kaluga. Russia.
 

Please excuse me for any inconvience caused by this message. I sent you this message from a library of our small city and I pray for your help.

My name is Valentin. I'm a student and I live with my mother in the city of Kaluga, Russia, that is 200km south 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 to be able to buy the necessary medications for my mother, but my salary is very small, because my studies still not finished.

Due to the crisis our authorities stoped gas in our district and now we cannot heat our home. I don't know what to do, because the weather is very cold here already (minus 12 degrees Celsius) and the temperature in the street can be lower than minus 30 degrees Celsius. I'm very afraid that the temperature inside our home can be very cold and we will not be able to survive.

Thanks to the internet access at our library I was able to find several 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 electric heater, warm clothes, electric water-boiler, high-calories canned food, vitamins, medicines from cold weather, any hygiene-products, I will be very grateful to you if you could send it to our postal address which is:

Valentin Mihailyn,
Ryleeva Ulitsa, 6-45.
Kaluga. 248030,
Russia.

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 home 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 wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2005. 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 Elena.
Kaluga. Russia.
 

Dear Friends,

Please excuse me for any inconvience caused by this message.

My name is Valentin. I'm student and live with my mother in small city in Russia. My mother is invalide. She cannot see and she receive 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 deep crisis, authorities stopped gas in our small district and we cannot heat our home anymore. I do not know what to do, because the weather is minus 11 degrees Celsius already and radio says it will be up to minus 25 during the next month. I'm very afraid that if the temperature will be lower than 0 degree in our sleeping room, we will not survive.

I applied to local Red Cross and they explained me that many people ask them for help every day and they cannot help to each family. They adviced me to search help from individuals.

Thanks to free Internet access in our college library, I found several addresses, including yours and I decided to appeal to you with a prayer in my heart for a small help. If you have any old used sleeping bag, warm blanket, clothes in size L and XL, portable heater, canned food, vitamins, water boiler, medicines against cold weather, any hygiene products, I will be very grateful you if you could send it to our home address:

Valentin Mikhailin,
Rileewa Ulica 6-45
Kaluga, 248030
Russia.

If you think that it would be better or easier for you to help with some money, please writes me back to my free e-mail valent@mailrus.ru and I will provide you with details how to send 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 home during the winter.

I hope to hear from you very soon and I pray that you can help us. I also hope very much that this hard situation will become better in our country very soon.

From all my heart, I wish you all the best in New Year.

Valentin,
Kaluga. Russia.
E-mail: valent@mailrus.ru
 

Hello, my dear Friend,

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 city Kaluga, Russia. My mother is invalid. She cannot see and she receive a very small pension which is not enough even for medications and food. I work very hard every day to be able to buy the necessities for my mother, but my salary is very small, because my studies still not finished. Due to deep crisis authorities stoped gas supply in our district and we cannot heat our home anymore. I don't know what to do, because the weather will be very cold in the next months and the temperature outside can be lower than minus 35 degrees Celsius, as it was in the last winter. I am very afraid that the temperature inside our home can be very cold and we will not be able to survive. I don't know what I can do in this situation.

Thanks to the free internet access in our local library I found several 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, portable stove, warm clothes and shoes, electric water-boiler, canned and dried food, vitamins, medicines from cold, any hygiene-products, I will be very grateful to you if you could send it to our postal address which is: Valentin Mikhailine, Rileewa Uliza, 6-45.Kaluga. 248030, Russia.

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 home 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.

Please excuse me, once more, for any inconvience caused by this message.

Valentin and my mother Elena.
Kaluga.
Russia.
E-mail: valyam@eposte.ru
In 2007 the annual scam was circulated yet again, but this time naming the letter's sender as Elena, the woman identified in previous finaglings 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:
[Collected via e-mail, October 2007]

Hi,

My name is Elena, I am 30 years old and I live in a province of Russia.

I have 6-years old daughter, father of Angelina abandoned us and we live with my mother in a small flat.

Due to the severe conditions of live in our province, frequent absence of water, anti sanitation, my daughter has got illness with eyes and became disabled.

Now we have a crisis in our region and we are afraid that local authorities can stop supply us with water and gas, as it happen in neighbour village.

The winter is coming and we don't know what to do. I found your address when I visited websites and guestbooks and I decided to ask you for help. If you have any old used warm clothes, warm boots, water-boiler, portable heater, conserved and dried food, polivitamins, aspirine, paracetamol and analogous medicaments, products of hygiene, we would be very happy if you can send it to us.

If it is easier for you to help with little money, please email me back and I will advice you how you can safely send it to us. I will then buy a small cast-iron stove (stove with burning wood), install it in our room and it will heat our home for the whole winter.

I work 6 days in a week in municipal library and thanks to this work, after my job, I'm allowed to use computer and send you this letter. I send you kind greetings and I hope to hear from you soon.

I must apologize for this letter.

Elena.
Russia.

P.S. I would like to send a picture of me and my daughter in this message, but there is no such a possibility.
In a second 2007 version of the scam, the appeal once again reverted to Valentin. In this 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."
Hello,

My name is Valentin, I am 25 years old and I live with my mother in a small Russian town. My mother cannot see and the authorities pays her a little indemnity, which is not enough even for medications.

I have a cardio-vascular illness and I work very hard to be able to buy the things of the primary necessity for my mother.

The situation is hopeless in our region and we are afraid that local boiler-house can stop heating of our home. The winter is coming and temperature can be minus 30 degrees in the nearest weeks. We don't know what to do and we are very afraid.

Thanks to the free internet access in our library I found 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, felt boots, mittens, wool-socks, fur-coat, warm blanket, warm clothes, portable heater, canned food, vitamins, medicines against cold, hygiene-products, I will be very grateful to you if you could send it to our postal address:

Valentin Michaylin,
Uliza Truda 24-8,
Kaluga. 248000,
Russia.

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 home 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.

Please excuse me, once more, for any inconvience I could cause you by sending this message.

May God Bless You,

Valentin and my Mother Elena.
The 2008 version once again had Valentin living with his blind mother whose "indemnity is not enough even for food and medications," but Valentin made no mention of 2007's "cardio-vascular illness," instead presenting himself as someone who recently lost his job and was holding a temp position that would last for only a couple of weeks:
[Collected via e-mail, November 2008]

Hello,

My name is Valentin. I'm 26 years old and I live with my mother in Russia.

My mother cannot see and her indemnity is not enough even for food and medications.

Due to the deep crisis in our country recently I lost my job and our situation became very difficult. Now I finded a new job, I work very hard but I was told that this work will be only for a couple of weeks.

The price for gas is very high in our region and we cannot use it for heating our home anymore.

I don't know what to do, because the winter is coming and the weather is very cold here already.

I finded several e-mail addreses and thanks to free internet access in our local library I decided to appeal to you for help.

If you have two old sleeping bags, warm clothes, electric water-boiler, canned and dried food, vitamins, medicines from cold, hygiene-products, I will be very grateful if you can send it to our address:

Valentin Mikhailin, Ryleeva Ulitsa, 6-45.
Kaluga. 248030,
Russia.

The only way for us to heat our home during winter is to use a portable wood burning stove from cast iron which give heat from burning wood, but we cannot buy it in a local shop because it is expensive for us.

I hope to receive your answer. I also hope that this hard situation will get better very soon.

Valentin.
Russia.
The 2009 version once again (see the first of the 2007 entries quoted above) named the letter's sender as Elena, the woman identified in previous iterations as Valentin's mother. This time around, Elena was presented as a 32-year-old abandoned single mother with an 8-year-old daughter named Anghelina, and there was no mention of Valentin or his brother. However, the 2009 version had Elena and her daughter living with Elena's unemployed mother:
Hello,

My name is Elena, I have 32 year and I write you from Russia. I work in municipal library and I can use computer after work when possible. We have a big problem and I decided to write you this message in despair.

I have a daughter Anghelina, she have 8 years, her father leaved us and we live with my mother.

Due to serious crisis recently my mother losed job (the shop where she worked is now closed) and our situation became very difficult.

Prices for gas and electricity are very expensive in our region and we cannot afford to use it for heating our home anymore.

It is very cold already in our region and weather becomes colder each day. We very afraid and we do not know what to do.

The only possibility for us to heat our home is to use portable wood burning oven which giving heating from burning wood. We have many wood in our region and this oven will be heating all our home during the winter with minimal charges.

Problem is that we can not buy this oven in our town because it cost 8165 roubles (equivalent of 191 Euro) and we cannot afford it.

In case if you have any old portable cast iron oven and if you do not use it anymore, we will be very thankful to youl if you could donate it for us and organize department of this oven to our adress (190 km from Moscow). This ovens may be different and weight 100-150kg.

I pray to hear from you soon.

Elena and my family.
Russia
According to a 2000 article run in a Russian daily (translation here), 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

Last updated:   11 November 2009

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Sources:

    www.OXPAHA.ru.   "The Riddle of Kaluga. Internet User Accused of Slander."
    18 April 2000.