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Email 'Stranded Scam' on the Rise says FBI

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By Admin on August 25, 2010 1:19 PM

An email scam not exactly new, but a different twist on an old con, is making headlines. In recent months, the FBI says they have seen a spike in complaints over a type of scam variously called the "money-transfer scam," the "stranded scam" or the "emergency scam." The FBI says these scams are an example of the new types of cybercrimes that use social engineering to trick victims.

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, the scam works like this. The con artist sends emails from a person's account to their friends claiming to have been robbed or otherwise stranded while on vacation abroad and asks the message recipient to send money immediately. In part because the message really does seem to be from a friend, people have reacted quickly and wired sometimes thousands of dollars to scammers.

The messages can fairly convincing. One stranded scam reported by the Chronicle said the scam message sent from the account of East Bay resident claimed she had been robbed while on vacation in Wales and was desperate. A friend who was taken in knew the "stranded" friend loved to travel and the message even contained the sender's signature sign-off line: "Peace Love Chocolate." That detail cost the victim about $3,600.

The FBI has gone so far as to issue two public service announcements about these scams in recent months, spokesman Paul Bresson in Washington, told the Chronicle. Robert Morgestar, a California deputy attorney general for special crimes, agrees with the assessment that the crimes are on the increase. "It's grown beyond a dull roar to a major problem," he said.

The following are a few tips from the Chronicle on some of the best ways to foil email scammers:

  • Use a strong, unique password for each online account, one that mixes special characters, numbers, uppercase and lowercase letters.
  • Use an up-to-date browser with an anti-phishing blacklist.
  • If your email is compromised, change your password and run an antivirus program; contact your provider if you're locked out of the account.
  • If you discover that a fake email has gone out under your name, notify your contacts to ignore it.
  • Report scams at www.ic3.gov and www.ftc.gov.

Finally, don't ignore the red flags. One victim said she put down the poor English used in the email to her friend's distress at having been "robbed." If your instinct tells you something is wrong, slow down and take another look before you act.

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