Please Send Money

I received an email this morning from a distant relative. This is what it said:

I’m sorry for this odd request because it might get to you too urgent but it’s because of the situation of things right now, I’m stuck in Madrid Spain with Family right now, we came down here on holiday we were robbed,the situation seems worse as bags,cash ,credit cards and cell phone were stolen at GUN POINT, It’s such a crazy experience for us, we need help flying back home, the authorities are not being 100% supportive but the good thing is that we still have our passport but don’t have enough money to get our flight ticket back home, please I need you to lend me some money, I will reimburse you right as soon as I’m back home. I promise

Alarm bells started ringing immediately. It looked suspicious, but at first I wasn’t sure. I only had an email address for this person, so I couldn’t ring her up and ask if her email address had been hacked.

It didn’t take long to confirm that indeed the message was a scam – typing in just the first phrase from the message into Bing produced over 500,000 hits.

It’s clear that her Hotmail account has been hacked, and taken over by a scammer. She may be able to get it back, with Hotmail’s help, but any damage has already been done.

This article, Hacked!, by James Fallows describes the situation very well, and in fact it’s almost the same scam email that was used. The only difference is that in the article, it’s a Gmail account that was hacked. One statistic that leapt out at me:

At Google I asked Byrant Gehring, of Gmail’s consumer-operations team, how often attacks occur. “Probably in the low thousands,” he said. “Per month?,” I asked. “No, per day,” followed by the reassurance that most were short-lived “hijackings,” used to send spam and phishing messages, and caused little or no damage, unlike our full-out attack.

As more of us start relying on the Cloud to handle our email and to store confidential data, it becomes even more important to use strong passwords that are changed often. As the saying goes: passwords are like underwear…

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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4 Responses to Please Send Money

  1. Al Feersum says:

    … and some underwear is like a chastity belt…

  2. TomT says:

    Dear Geoff, thank your for this timely warning, I too am stuck with family right now, in New York City, New York, USA, we wish to go on holiday but have been robbed (by the collapse of the financial system,) we need help flying overseas to Ibiza or Mallorca or Capri, I have asked the authorities for help but they have been less than forthcoming, the good thing is that we still have our passports, so please wire me enough for three plane tickets (USD $10,000 ought to do it) and I will repay you as soon as possible, or at least send you a nice postcard, I promise.

  3. Matt Healy says:

    A while back a friend of mine got his email account hacked; my wife and I both got “Help I am stranded in London” messages. Right away I suspected this was a scam, so we called his US phone number and learned (1) he was not stranded in London, he was in the US, (2) friends from all over the world had been calling or emailing to offer assistance.

    Even before Googling, my first reason to suspect a scam was that we had some mutual friends who lived in or near London, so if he was stranded there wouldn’t he phone one of them (or some other London friend) rather than emailing somebody in the US? Surely somebody who was nearby would be a more logical choice if immediate assistance was required.

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