I keep receiving e-mails from some of my good friends who seem to be in trouble. Obviously, this is spam, but I thought I should write a post about it to warn everyone. My feeling is that there are people out there who might believe the content of such e-mails is true and, willing to help a friend, they might get ripped off.
Here’s the content of the mail.
“Sorry i did not inform you about my urgent trip to Istanbul, Turkey. Unfortunately for me, the hotel i lodged was burnt down by fire. All my valuables including cash,and cell phone were destroyed during the inferno but luckily for me i still have my life and passport with me. I have contacted the police but they are not responding to the matter effectively, they only asked me to write a statement about the incident and referred me to the Embassy. Please, i really need you to loan me €2,240 Euros so i can go over to the Embassy to make complains and make arrangement for a new traveling ticket and also relocate to another hotel pending the time all will be sorted out. You can have the money wired on my name via Western Union money transfer. Here are the details you need below:
Name: (friend’s full name)
Address :Cubulu Caddesi No26,
As soon as it is done, please email me back with the transfer details (MTCN) or a scanned copy of the receipt.
Waiting for your mail
(friend’s first name)”
I tried to locate the address above with Google maps. The response was: “We were not able to locate the address: Cubulu Caddesi No26, 34812 Bosphorus, Istanbul, Turkey“. The closest match to this address is Cubuklu Caddessi No27, with the exact street code, and… it is the address of a hotel.
Not that this really matters… When sending money via Western Union, someone can get their hands on that money wherever they find a Western Union agency – and there are thousands in every country, because Western Union authorises almost any shop to make transactions under their name. There are four things someone needs in order to receive money: i) the sum that was sent to them, ii) the name of the sender, iii) some form of ID and iv) the MTCN – the specific number given to that transaction, a number which is generated automatically when sending the money, and which is then used as sort of password.
Now let’s imagine we believed the content of the e-mail to be true and sent the money. Then we’d send the e-mail containing the MTCN. The only thing the spammer would be missing is a form of ID, a detail which, I am sure, can be easily overcome if he/she bribes the Western Union payer with one or two hundred Euros/Pounds. Or, we could make things a lot easier for the spammer and e-mail them a scanned copy of the receipt we got when sending the money…
Other e-mails in the same category? Winning a lottery you never participated in, money you inherited abroad (from some relative you never knew existed), sharing millions with some accountant working for a bank where he discovered an account which nobody has claimed for several years and, last but not least, your share of several millions if you accept to have them transferred to your account because the money is not safe in its country of origin any longer… What they have in common? They ask for personal details, including a bank account, they make it sound like it is a big secret (so they ask for complete discretion) and they hope to find people who might jump at the opportunity they offer.
Are there still people who would fall for such humbug? Yes… There are. There are people who genuinely believe such e-mails, do not smell the fraud and comply to the confidentiality request, so they don’t show the e-mail to anyone or ask for advice. There are also people who are greedy enough to overlook the minimum safety measures they could take against being ripped off their money.
My main concern is: how do the spammers send the e-mail as if coming from a certain friend’s address? How do they detect who my closest friends are, the ones I might feel tempted to help? How daft do they assume I am? And… why would a Romanian friend write to me in English?
So… what do I do with these e-mails? I generally ignore and delete them without even reading them. If I worry for a friend, I’ll contact them on their phone or their friend’s/spouse’s phone and find out if anything happened. If I am curious, I read the e-mail and then Google any names appearing in it. One thing I never do is NEVER ANSWER these e-mails, for any reason in the world. Not even to politely ask them to stop sending you junk mail. Once you answer, they have a proof that the address is valid and they’ll sell it to other spammers. Trust me, I know what I’m saying… I’ve learned it the hard way… It took me one second to open an attachment and a whole week to have the computer formatted (losing all data stored in it, ’cause everything got infected with viruses ans worms and trojans)…
There was a time when curiosity used to kill the cat. Nowadays it kills our laptops, makes us lose valuable work we didn’t back up and ruins our lives.