Dec 17 2009
Brother, can you spare $2500…?
When people think of “cyber-crime” most people think of hackers, viruses and other malware, etc. In other words, they think in terms of attacks based on technology, and that can be defeated by technology such as antivirus software, firewalls, etc.
In reality, most cyber-criminals rely more on human nature than technology to achieve their goals. This is called “social engineering”, and it is on what most online scams are based. The criminals rely on greed, on the trusting nature of people, or on the compassion for others to either get your personal information, or in some cases, get you to give them your money willingly.
A teacher in our district received this e-mail and forwarded it to me:
From: <Name Redacted>[mailto:<Name Redacted>@msn.com]
Sent: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 3:39 AM
To: <Name Redacted>
Subject: Urgent help needed
How are you doing ? Hope all is well with you, I’m sorry that I didn’t inform you about my traveling to England for a Seminar.I need a favor from you as soon as you receive this e-mail , I regret to inform you that misplaced my wallet on my way to the hotel where my money and other valuable things were kept, I will like you to assist me with a soft loan urgently.
I will be needing the sum of $2,500 to sort-out my hotel bills and get myself back home.I will appreciate whatever you can afford to help me with, I will pay you back as soon as I return,I’m counting on you on this,Kindly let me know if you can be of help so I can send you my details to use when sending the money through western union.I look forward to read from you later today.
Your quick reply will be greatly appreciated.
This teacher was quite upset because the e-mail appeared to come from the parent of one of her previous students.
We have seen this scam in a couple of forms. One included a phone number to call. When you called the number (in India), someone actually answered, told you that the person was out, and offered to take your credit card information for her.
Of course, this e-mail should quickly raise the suspicions of the alert reader. Of course, the fact that it came from somone the teacher did not know well was a big tipoff. But what if it came from a good friend? Would you be suspicious? Well, if nothing else, the poor grammar and bad punctuation should be a clue that the writer might not have English as their first language.
Looking at this message, it might be hard to imagine anyone would be taken in. Yet I have read stories of people who have lost thousands of dollars because they thought they were helping a friend in need. They let their compassion override their sense of caution and failed to ask common sense questions.
So as a general rule, always confirm any request for assistance by calling a number that you know first. If you think a friend is in need, never provide assistance without talking to your friend directly. And always approach anything you receive in e-mail with a critical eye.