It might seem easy to see through scams, but when a message apparently comes from a friend, it's easy to put your skepticism aside and try to help.
Nearly unwired by wire fraud
By Greg McCorkle
We love our technology. The ease in which we can communicate with each other has reached an amazing level. You can be half way around the world and send texts and emails to friends and family as if they were next door. Unfortunately digital information can be, and is, compromised at increasingly alarming rate. The ability to intrude on personal information has moved far beyond steaming open a letter sent by people you know. I experienced this just the other day.
I awoke to an email from a friend and former college classmate saying they were in trouble.
This is the text from that email…
“Sorry for the inconvenience, I am in a terrible situation right now and am going to need your urgent help. I am in Dublin, Ireland and at the moment and I misplaced my bag containing all my vital items, phone and money at the bus station. In am kind of stranded at the moment I may need a little help from you”.
This is a friend. Who wouldn’t want to help a friend stuck in this predicament? I can’t imagine the mental state I would be in if that happened to me. After I responded they went on to say…
“Thanks. Is a terrible experience. I’ve contacted the embassy in order to obtain a temporary passport and they are helping me out with my documentation but need to borrow about 1,000 Euros to pay for some bill and also my hotel bills. I promise to pay back immediately as am back. Please let me know if you can help so I can forward you details to effect transfer”.
I know the grammar was clumsy at times but I thought if I was in that situation grammar and spelling would not be at the top of my list so I ignored the discrepancies. I was asked to send any money that I could afford via Moneygram or by Western Union. I immediately went to my bank and withdrew some cash. Checking on Google I found a Western Union office in Seatac and headed with haste to the airport location to fulfil the request.
Now during all of this I was in constant touch with (the person I thought was) my friend. The response was what you expect from a grateful person. “I will pay you back with interest”, Thank you so much for helping me”, so on and so forth.
I arrived back at my house feeling good. I helped a friend in need who would forever grateful. It was a no brainer. I would like to think if I was in that situation and friends came to my rescue they would have my undying respect and admiration.
I settled down to a late lunch when I got a Facebook post from this friend saying their email account had been hacked that morning… I went white. I could feel the blood draining from my head and the room began to spin. “Oh my god I’ve been robbed”! I immediately contacted my friend on Facebook and he confirmed my fears. I had not been conversing with him at all but a shadow person masquerading as him. Within moments I was on the phone to Western Union and was put in touch with their fraud unit. Fortunately the money had not yet been picked up. The person the phone was able to cancel the transaction and tell me what I needed to do in order to recover my money. That’s when I found out every Fred Myers has a Western Union… FYI… far more convenient.
Everything worked out. Disaster averted. Blood pressure back to normal. That’s when I received an email from “This person” saying they had been at the Western Union office for five hours and were informed that the money was not there. “They” were wondering when the money would arrive. I got right back on the phone with the Western Union fraud people to inform them that the perpetrator was in reach of local authorities. They took my statement and said it would be passed along. I was also told to respond to the individual and tell them that I knew they were not the real “friend”. Which I did.
I cannot post exactly what I said because, by law, it can’t be printed. Suffice it to say it would make the most seasoned sailor blush. Thieves and unsavory people have been around since the dawn of time and they will always be there to try and take advantage of honest, thoughtful people like you and me. We can take simple steps to avoid situations like this in the future. Ask a simple security question that only the real person would know the answer to.
In my case that question should have been. “Where did we first meet”?
The appropriate answer would have been, “In college”.
I learned something. Fortunately it was not the hard way. The cost to me, a half day wasted.