The emergency email scam continues to snare unwary victims despite much discussion in the news of this type of scam. 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 was sent to me by the person receiving it. It was initially sent through the hacked email of the purported friend in need in order to make it appear legitimate.
Sorry for any inconvenience, but I’m in a terrible situation. I came down here to France on vacation with my family after my birthday, last night on our way back to my hotel room we were robbed at gunpoint all cash,credit cards and cell phones were stolen off me, leaving my passport and life safe. My luggage is still in custody of the hotel management pending when I make payment on outstanding bills I owe. I called my bank for a wire transfer but it has proven almost Impossible to operate my account from here as they made me understand international transactions take 7 working days to be effective which I can’t wait. I need you to help me with a loan to pay my hotel bills and get my self home. I’ll reimburse you as soon as I get back Home. I’ll appreciate whatever you can assist me with, let me know if you can help.
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 particularly skeptical and 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.