As 419 scams go, this one deserves to be filed not so much under ‘highly unlikely’ as ‘utterly bizarre’.  

According to security company MessageLabs, it has detected an advance fee fraud (another name for the Nigerian 419 scam) email that claims to be from the new head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde.

After introducing herself in stilted English, one of the world's most powerful women requests that recipients who are still reading send $45 (£30) to the IMF in the African state of Benin (no giveaway there) in return for the release of a mystery consignment. The contents of this are not explained.

Even by the standards of the 419 scam, this one is a collector’s item that strays beyond the vague into the positively unearthly. MessageLabs even advises Internet users, sternly:

“To avoid falling victim to a 419 or advance fee fraud scam, remember that if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you receive an email claiming you've won the lottery, if you haven't bought a ticket, then you haven't won.”

If you need to listen closely to that advice you're probably beyond saving.

But before laughing this sort of scam off let's remember that it is also possible that 419s find victims not among the gullible but people with psychological problems who decide to believe because that’s just what they do.  

A memorable example was the Oregon woman who in 2008 had to be banned from sending money to 419 scammers despite the fact that she seemed rationally to know that the communications were bogus. She reportedly lost $400,000.

Or, on a different but related tack, the New York man who let a computer repair shop con him out of $20 million fortune after allegedly being duped into a paranoid state about his security.

There is plenty of evidence that enough of these scams work which is why people will even try Christine Lagarde as the bait, however ludicrous it might sound to the world weary.