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E-mail wire transfer scam, hacking alert

Don't get hooked by online phishers

Posted: March 11, 2010 11:45 a.m.
Updated: March 11, 2010 11:48 a.m.

Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station deputies took two separate reports of electronic mail (e-mail) phishing-related scams from local residents who apparently had their Yahoo and GMail (Google) e-mail accounts unlawfully accessed and altered Tuesday.

In each case, the residents reported that someone had managed to gain access to their e-mail account, changed their password and sent an e-mail to all of their personal friends and contacts in their account. The e-mails sent to the friends and contacts by the suspect(s) claimed to be from the victim.

In one of the incidents, the suspect(s), acting as the victim, sent a fraudulent e-mail that stated:

"I'm writing this with tears in my eyes, my fam and I came down here to London, England for a short vacation unfortunately we were mugged at the park of the hotel where we stayed, all cash, credit card and cell 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 and our flight leaves in less than 3hrs from now but we're having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won't let us leave until we settle the bills."

"Am freaked out at the moment."

-Victim's name

When the suspect(s) received an e-mail reply from a concerned friend or relative of the victim, they sent a second e-mail thanking them for wanting to help and asking them to wire 1,250 British pounds (more than $1,800 United States Currency) to a Western Union office in the United Kingdom.

In the second report the circumstances were similar in stating that the victim was in Europe and had lost her wallet. Each time the suspects would ask to be contacted via e-mail.

In the second case the suspects stated the following:

"Hope you get this on time? Sorry I didn't inform you about my trip to UK for a program. I am having some difficulties here because i misplaced my wallet on my way to the hotel which contained some cash, credit cards and some other valuable things. Presently, my passport and my things are been held down by the hotel management pending when i make payment."

"I will like you to assist me with a loan of $1,550 to sort-out my hotel bills and to get myself back home. I will appreciate whatever you can afford to assist me with, I will Refund the money back to you as soon as i return, let me know if you can be of any help? ASAP."

"I currently don't have a phone where i can be reached."


In these types of scams the e-mails commonly contain grammatical errors and language inconsistencies.

Fortunately, it does not appear as though any of the victims' friends in these two cases actually wired the money. Instead, they did the right thing and called their friends to inquire if the e-mail was true and made them aware they had received it.

SCV Sheriff's Station detectives are continuing their investigation into these two cases.

It is a felony under California law to alter computer system data or an e-mail with the intent to defraud. However, these cases usually cross many jurisdictional lines and when money is wired to another country it is very difficult to ever recover it for the victim.

The best thing to do is not to fall for these types of crimes and avoid becoming a victim at all.

Sheriff's officials would like to remind all residents about the prevalence of these types of money transfer scams. They can range from simple requests to elaborate claims, schemes, and scams like the one outlined above.

Another such scam that surfaced last year was the "Grandma Scam." The Grandma Scam occurs when a grandparent receives a call from a person claiming they are their grandchild. They tell the grandma they are in some kind of trouble, usually an automobile accident, are in the hospital or are under arrest and need bail money. They generally have the grandchild's name and are quick to answer questions.

The caller usually begins the conversation by saying, "Hi Grandma, it's me, your favorite grandchild." The caller then goes on to make a pitch about being in trouble and in immediate need of money. Many times they claim it is the only call they are able to make.

Sheriff's officials and other authorities encourage family members to explain these types of scams to elderly people and all their friends or relatives.

Tell them to hang up if they receive a call like this or, at the very least, to verify with other family members prior to sending or wiring any money, even if the caller asks them to hurry and please not tell anyone. Tell them not to reply to similar e-mails requesting wire transfers.


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