It happened again this week! It seems that at least a couple of times each year, I can count on receiving an email from a friend, relative, or acquaintance, who is in distress and desperately needs my immediate financial help to make it home from a vacation-gone-wrong in some foreign land. Inevitably, it has a familiar theme, and sometimes it is verbatim what other emails I’ve received stated; other emails from other friends, who were also stranded in a land far, far away.
But we all know these emails aren’t really true and they aren’t really coming from who they say they are. However, the email message really does come from your friend’s actual email account BUT it doesn’t actually come from your friend, your unsuspecting friend. Their email account has been hacked and now some cyber scam artist is trying to dupe you, and many more good-hearted, albeit gullible, friends or relatives, into sending them money. And they almost always want the money wired.
These types of email scams have been circulating for years. The reason they live on seems due to the fact that there’s a new sucker born every minute. Meaning, they work! And as long as people keep falling for it, the scammers will prey.
Here’s the content of the message I received this week:
Subject: My Terrible Trip………..(insert name of sender)
I really hope you get this fast, my family and I came down here to Madrid, Spain for a short vacation and we were mugged at gun point last night at the park of the hotel where we lodged, all cash and credit card were stolen off us but luckily for us we still have our passports with us…
We’ve been to the Embassy and the Police here, but they’re not helping issues at all they asked us to wait for 3 weeks but we can’t wait till then and our flight leaves in few hours from now but we’re having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won’t let us leave until we settle the hotel bills, we are freaked out at the moment. Well I really need your financially assistance. Please let me know if you can help us out, write me back so I can tell you how to get it to me.
The story always ends the same. Please send money! Though your first inclination might be to help, at least do a little checking around first. And if you still have the urge to help…STOP IT!
Try performing a few simple fact-finding steps:
- Look for clues in the body of the message. If something doesn’t sound like them, it’s because it’s not them!
- Question whether your relationship with this person is one where they’d contact you in a crisis, not to mention ask you for money.
- If you’re at all familiar with their writing style or ability, look for disconnects between what you know and what you’re reading. General poor writing and grammar skills might be enough to tip you off. Also, scrutinize the writer’s choice of vocabulary words. Do you know your friend to use the phrase, “freaked out?”
- Call your friend’s home and cell phone numbers to at least try to confirm their whereabouts. Many times that will be the end of it. They’ve been home all along and have no idea what you’re talking about.
- Check their last Facebook or other social media status to see if there was any indication of them traveling abroad. Also, check time frames between their activities to see if it’s even possible for them to be where the email purports them to be.
- If the writer claims to be at a particular hotel or other public establishment, locate the phone number on your own and attempt to call it and ask to be connected to your friend.
My first clue that this was a hoax was that I barely know this dude sending me the email. In fact, I was surprised he even had my email address in the first place. A big second clue was the subject line, which reminded me of the classic children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst & Ray Cruz. Who does that? No matter how intriguing and entertaining the title of the email and subsequent story might be, I wasn’t about to take the bait. Don’t you either!
For another example of a common email scam, check out, “Facebook scam: Friend stuck in England needs money“