"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Scam

You've probably become familiar with emails that are Nigerian scams or Iraqi veterans needing financial assistance scams.  But what if the email asking for help is from someone you think you know?

Yesterday morning, I got this email ...
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I hope you get this on time, i know you might not believe this but i want you to know this is for real and i need your urgent assistance and i hope you will not let me down. I don't really mean to inconvenience you right now, I made an emergency trip to London. Unfortunately for me I got robbed on my way back to the hotel where i lodged along with my cell phone, my credit card and since then i have been without money. At the moment my passport has been seized by the hotel management pending the time payment is made. So i have limited access to emails for now. I urgently need your financial assistance. I need about 3550 British pound sterling or any amount you can lend me to sort-out the bills, so i can make arrangements and return back. I'm in a panic now. I know this may sound odd but it all happened very fast. I have no access to my account. Please, can you lend me some funds? I'll be willing to pay you as soon as I get home.

Please respond as soon as you get this message.

M*******

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Some background for this:

A little over a year ago, the person I know as M******* commented on a post I had published, and we corresponded a bit.  The return email address appeared to be correct but, let's take a shot at fisking this a bit ...

I hope you get this on time, i know you might not believe this but i want you to know this is for real and i need your urgent assistance and i hope you will not let me down. I don't really mean to inconvenience you right now, I made an emergency trip to London. 

The person the writer claims to be lives in the Missouri Ozarks.  If she has made an emergency trip to London, she apparently has the resources to do so and very likely has plenty of friends to call on for help.  To the best of my knowledge, the real M******* is not a recluse and does have a circle of friends.

Unfortunately for me I got robbed on my way back to the hotel where i lodged along with my cell phone, my credit card and since then i have been without money.

Ok. People who have cell phones tend to have people they can call.  If they have a credit card good for overseas use the company that issued it almost certainly has provisions to allow the user to go to a bank for assistance in the situation described.

At the moment my passport has been seized by the hotel management pending the time payment is made. So i have limited access to emails for now.

So, she has a passport that has not been stolen. That should be sufficient identification for a bank to help her access her accounts. For the hotel management to refuse to release it (if not to her directly, then to make it available to whatever official is trying to help her) would seem self-defeating and probably not likely.

I urgently need your financial assistance. I need about 3550 British pound sterling or any amount you can lend me to sort-out the bills, so i can make arrangements and return back. I'm in a panic now. I know this may sound odd but it all happened very fast. 

The real M******* has read my blog and would know that I am a retiree, whose early-retirement social security is supplemented by the meager earnings from a part-time grocery cashier position and that my own financial circumstances barely reach the "survival" level. That she would waste time and resources ("limited access to emails") to make such a request of me doesn't make a lot of sense.

I have no access to my account. Please, can you lend me some funds? I'll be willing to pay you as soon as I get home.

I've already noted above that help should be available from a bank that handles her credit card.

I've not even touched on this question (because I don't really know the details here), "What kind of help could she get from the U.S. Embassy in London?"

Now, I did not go into that kind of detailed reasoning yesterday morning, but the whole thing did seem decidedly off.

However, the very degree of "off-ness" made me wonder if it indeed could be real;  when hit with a catastrophe, your thinking may not be at its best.

Now M******* has a blog, and has a live-in friend and assistant (S****) who manages that blog and also one of her own.

Not having an email address for S****, I went to her blog and pasted that email into a comment there and added ...
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I have great difficulty in believing this is for real, because if M******* read my blog she would know I am a retiree with only the salary of a part-time grocery cashier’s job supplementing way too insufficient early-retirement social security and would be very unlikely to ask ME for 3550 British Pounds (probably in the neighborhood of $5000 or so).

IF it truly IS M*******, do you know people who can help her (I am completely helpless here)?

As I said, I simply cannot believe this.

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At that point, I had to start getting ready to go to work, resolving to make some phone calls when I got back to find out what help might be available from the embassy there.

(To anyone knowledgeable reading this:  Please let me know if I am anywhere near the mark in my speculations of what kind of help may be available in such a situation.)

Before leaving for work, I logged back on, to find this email from S**** ...
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I received a copy also. She is asleep in the next room. It IS a fake. Interesting. We will look into it asap. She recently had a cc hacked now this.

How are you?

S**** D*****

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So, that was good to hear.

When I got home from work, I found this email from the real M******* ...
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Paul - thanks for being suspicious. My account was hacked by some slimy dude. I'm at home and doing fine. Sorry to trouble you.
M*******

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I replied to that, and then realizing something I was missing, forwarded that reply to S****, noting ...
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Hi S****:

I replied to M*******'s note earlier, and didn't even think that if this creep
has access to her email account, he might blow it away before she even sees it.

So, just in case ...

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And got this piece of closure in return...
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We made some wild furious changes and actually retrieved M*******'s email account. Apparently he was sleeping when we made our moves. Then we quickly changed every password and security question on other accounts. I was amazed we pulled it off.

S****

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To which the only reply I could think of was ...

  COOL!!! :-)

What a day.
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6 comments:

Sarah said...

Wow. First of all, I want to give you a lot of credit for all the cut and paste work! That was a challenge!

Interesting to note, M was still sleeping when I got up to make myself some coffee and decided to check my email on my cell phone. The first email was from Paul about the bogus message he received, so I checked the rest. Sure enough there was the bogus email from M. I peeked into her room to make sure she hadn't snuck off to London in the middle of the night. Still snoring away as I suspected. So I emailed Paul letting him know the status quo (?). M woke shortly and wanted to know what was on the agenda for the day. Ha! ScumbucketsI snorted! Then explained.

LONG story short, we were able to retrieve her email account's (yes plural, as they were all affected) before all the standby accounts had been hacked, called banking peeps, changes every password and security question she had etc., etc., etc.

There were many dozens of other friends on M's email list who responded to her within hours about receiving the scam email also.

Happy day! Nothing lost, great experience even though the adrenaline was rushing for about 4 hours as we worked our way through it. Lesson learned.

Thanks for being such a johnny-on-the-spot guy Paul!! M is currently on a jaunt to Bulgaria for the day... no wait! She's just gone to the local big city to help a friend.

S.

(I should copy and paste all this for a post on my own blog!)

Paul Gordon said...

First of all, I want to give you a lot of credit for all the cut and paste work!

I know some people who would use that statement as sarcasm. :-)

(I should copy and paste all this for a post on my own blog!)

Go for it! "Cut and paste" is one of the great inventions, along with highlighters. I had no shame about using it for my "Anatomy of an eBay Transaction" post of long ago (Jan 2010); it just seemed the most effective tool for that.

Thanks for the "heads up" about her not being in Bulgaria (Has "Winter's Bone" not made it there yet? :-)
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GW said...

I received one of those several months ago. I contacted the guy through his blog to verify and, only then, found out it was a hoax. I must admit, it was a good one - far more sophisticated than the out of the blue 10 kazillion dollars Mbago Mustaffah wants to send you to hold from the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Sarah said...

Paul, I had a really difficult time not injecting a slice of sarcasm into that line about cut and paste because I am a sarcastic kinda gal- and hoped the humor of it was not wasted on you!
I have been known to write entire short stories using the "cut and paste" method. It's an acquired taste.
Great post. I hope it heightens awareness for some people.

Sarah

Paul Gordon said...

Sarah:

Between those two lines of yours I quoted, there's an entire section that would simply not be there if your remark was malicious.

I feel that I know that much about you.

So, Kid: We're cool. :-)
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Foxfier said...

I've done passwords using cut-and-paste when my keyboard died-- that was a lot of work! (Also, I felt like I was doing a modern version of that old newspaper demand thing. ^.^)

I'll pass this on to my mom-- she knows about the cell phone version, but this could even be faked fairly easily.

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