Internet Dating and Romance Scams

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The scams from Spain are really such a pain

July 7, 2010
By MATT HANLEY mhanley@stmedianetwork.com

NOT IN SPAIN — Despite what you might have heard, Jo Fredell Higgins is not in Europe. She does not need thousands of dollars because her purse was misplaced. And she does know how to punctuate a sentence.
But on Saturday, someone sent out a desperate plea from Higgins’ e-mail account, posing as her.
Aurora author Jo Fredell Higgins had her e-mail hacked into and is now locked out of her Yahoo account. Fredell Higgins is an author and is working on a book about Montgomery. “I’ve had people tell me they sent me an e-mail and there is nothing I can do about it.” she said.
“Sorry I didn’t inform you about my trip to Spain for a program. I am having some difficulties here because i misplaced my purse on my way to the hotel…,” the e-mail says. “I will like you to assist me with a loan of $1800 to sort-out my hotel bills and to get myself back home.”

The first phone call to Higgins came Saturday morning. A friend at the Aurora library immediately recognized it as a scam and wanted to warn Higgins that the same note might have gone out to others.

“I said ‘Really? How much am I asking you for?'” Higgins said. “Then I thought, this is bad news. The phone has not stopped ringing.”

Higgins has heard from people she hasn’t talked to in years. Family and friends called to check that she was OK and not stranded.

“I would never, ever send such an e-mail and I would use correct grammar,” Higgins said Tuesday from Aurora — which she hasn’t left, especially for Europe.

A similar e-mail went out last week claiming to be from an employee at Water Street Studios, an art studio in Batavia.

The stranded traveler plea is a new version of an e-mail scam that first went around in 2006, but has sprung up recently with such frequency that the FBI released a new warning last week. The e-mail is still effective because it plays on the good nature of people who are asked to make a quick decision. And, unlike that Nigerian prince who wrote you last week, the e-mail comes from the address of a friend you know — which has led some people to send money without a thorough check.

“The Internet Crime Complaint Center continues to receive reports of individuals’ e-mail or social networking accounts being compromised and used in a social engineering scam to swindle consumers out of thousands of dollars,” said a notice posted on the FBI’s website. “If you receive a similar notice and are not sure it is a scam, you should always verify the information before sending any money.”

Snopes.com, a website that examines urban legends, recommends contacting the family member first by phone to see if they are truly in need. If you still can’t reach them by phone, ask a personal question that only they can answer. But Snopes recommends you don’t ask for something generic like a birthday or street address, which may be culled from other sources. Instead, ask something only your friend would know, like a funny story from a long ago party you both attended.

And, if you have been a victim of this type of scam, you can report it to http://www.IC3.gov. The IC3 complaint database links complaints for possible investigation and is used to identify emerging patterns.

For Higgins, the whole episode has been an unnerving headache.

Since Saturday, she has not been able to access either her e-mail or Facebook accounts. She receives about 40 to 60 e-mails a day, but hasn’t seen any of them. And a computer store told her it might cost $300 to scrub viruses out of the machine.

“Part of my mind says this is not open-heart surgery,” she said. “Part of me is saying: Oh my goodness.”

If there’s any positive in this, Higgins was touched by the number of people who were willing to help her, including one who responded with an offer of $500.

Thankfully, as far as Higgins knows, no one actually wired money.

“People should be warned about these evildoers,” she said.

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July 17, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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