Penniless in Cyprus, my pal needed help...
A few days ago I switched on my computer and, amongst all the usual junk mail I noticed an email from my friend Joe's private address entitled "Please Help!" Naturally I was alarmed, so I opened the message and began to read.
"I'm on holiday in Cyprus and have been mugged. All my money, tickets and luggage have been taken and I know nobody here. I'm safe now but in desperate need of help. Please do what you can!"
Bloody hell that's terrible, I thought. What a nightmare! Without hesitation I replied: "So sorry to hear of your plight, Joe! Tell me how I can help and I'll do all I can."
A reply came through within a minute.
"Thank you! I need to raise €900 to book a flight out of here. Will be able to pay you back as soon as I'm home in Belfast! Please send me your bank account details and I will take it from there."
Now, my own credit card was perilously close to being maxed out, so I decided to speak to my dad. He's always been generous to a fault and would never knowingly see anyone stuck, so I didn't think twice about asking him to help out a stranger in need.
"Yes, of course I will – if it's genuinely an emergency ... But you should phone his number and check first."
Now, I wasn't surprised that he was a bit cautious, but still I was too worried to think clearly.
"Look, he's a decent guy and not the type to rip off his friends. And it's definitely him, because it's come from his private email address," I replied naively.
Nevertheless, dad persuaded me to make a few checks before going willy-nilly on an international mercy mission with his credit card.
So I went onto Facebook to see if his number was listed there. It's a good job I did. There, on his wall, were 20+ messages from alarmed friends and family asking if he was ok. And what the hell was he doing in Cyprus?!
And, as I was scrolling through for more clues, an urgent post came through on Joe's newsfeed:
"EVERYONE! I'M NOT IN CYPRUS I repeat I'M NOT IN CYPRUS! and furthermore I HAVEN'T BEEN MUGGED! Some w*****r must have hacked into my email account. Don't ask me how, when or where. But definitely DO NOT send any personal details of any sort to that email account, as it's been compromised! But, hey, thanks for caring so much! I'm touched!"
So it was a scam, after all. Oh my GOD! I was just about to send my dad's bank details to some gangster in Godknowswhere!
What a wake-up call that was. And scary not just that they were able to hack into a private account but they could compose an email that sounds so legitimate.
Up until now, the most common type of scam I've encountered is the sob-story email from a total stranger in a very remote and distant country. I get these so often it's now dead easy to spot them.
They usually begin with some bizarrely formal intro such as "Hello Dear This Message Is Respectfully Yours".
Instantly suspicious, don't you think? For a start this person doesn't know your name, nor even your gender. And its written in quaint pidgin English.
"I am writing this to you with tears in my eyes and sorrow from my heart ..."
God love 'em, at least they're descriptive.
"I am 23yrs old female from East Africa. My father, the Kenyan road minister, was on a plane which crashed in a remote mountain range. All on board were killed, leaving me an orphan."
Poor girl. Orphaned at 23 ... and from such a respectable family too, with her dad being a "road minister", no less. Wonder what happened next?
Read on and weep.
Now as I wasn't born yesterday, I know the following saga is just a made-up rigmarole inspired by a thousand soap operas and fairy stories. So here's the gist:
"Evil stepmother ... me penniless ... unbeknown to her dad had deposited money in Burkina Faso ... $8.5m ... will be mine if I can secure a trustee overseas ... you will get 20% of the total money for your services ... All that I require is your full name, address and bank account details including sort code ... And may God bless you for coming to my aid my dear!"
"Good Lord! What an incredible investment opportunity!" you don't think as you don't reach for your cheque book.
If, however, you do believe them, I'd be grateful if you'd forward your bank account details to my email address above, so I can assist you in your transaction.