The emergency email scam continues to snare unwary victims despite much discussion of this particular scam in the news. It starts when you get an email describing a dire emergency that a friend or relative has encountered, generally in a foreign country, that requires the immediate wiring of funds to your friend or relative. Sometimes the emergency relates to an arrest. Other times it relates to a medical emergency, but it always is an urgent request for immediate funds to resolve the problem. This scam is also done by communications on social media, such as Facebook, by text message or the telephone, such as in the infamous grandparent scam.
Often when the scam is done by email, it can appear that the email is really coming from your friend because your friend’s email account may have been hacked and used to send you the plea for help.
Here is a copy of such an email that I recently received. I have taken out the name of the person who is appearing to send the email.
“Hoping this email reaches you well, I’m sorry for this emergency and for not informing you about my trip to Philippines but I just have to let you know my present predicament. Everything was fine until I was attacked on my way back to the hotel, I wasn’t hurt but I lost my money, bank cards, mobile phone and my bag in the course of this attack. I immediately contacted my bank in order to block my cards and also made a report at the nearest police station. I’ve been to the embassy and they are helping me with my documentation so i can fly out but I’m urgently in need of some money to pay for my hotel bills and my flight ticket home, will definitely REFUND as soon as back home .
Kindly let me know if you would be able to help me out so I can forward you the details required for a wire transfer.
Waiting to hear back from you…”
If you receive such a communication, you should immediately be skeptical, particularly if you are being contacted by an email, text message or social media. If you have any concern that the communication might be legitimate, it is easy to contact the person on their cell phone to confirm that the communication you received was just a scam. Anytime you are asked to wire money for any purpose, you should be very careful because once money is wired, it is impossible to recover if you find out you have been scammed.
If you are contacted and told by your friend that they do not have access to their cell phone, you should first try to contact them on their cell phone which will definitely prove to you that this is a scam. Even if you cannot make contact with your real friend or relative through their cell phone, you can always call the police, embassy or hospital where they say they are in order to confirm that this is a scam.
Students and others traveling abroad should register with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/. This program can help with communications in an emergency situation. Parents who have children traveling overseas, should also consider establishing a special code word to use in the event of the need for emergency communications to prove that the communication is legitimate.