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Is that Your Friend in need?

Or, could it be that their ID has been Hijacked by scamsters to beg money out of you?

Here's a situation to watch out for. You receive an e-mail apparently from a friend you know, and they are stranded and are asking for your help, involving some money.

Well it is tempting to believe it's real because the e-mail address and name is that of someone whom you know. However, beware! The situation may not be what it seems. In particular, scamsters may have stolen your friend's identity by hacking into their computer, and then they are impersonating your friend to see if they can get you to part with some cash.

Here's an example message, and afterward it I will explain how to defeat the scam and at the same time avoid leaving any of your friends stranded!

Incoming message:

I'm sorry to bother you, I came down here to Wales,United Kingdom for a short holiday, unfortunately i was assaulted at the park of the hotel where i stayed,my flight leaves few hrs from now but i'm having problems with the hotel bills and the manager won't let me leave until i settle the bills about $1250, Can you help me out pls or How much can you help with? I'll refund it when i get back to town.


Here's what to do to defeat the scam: Try to contact your friend by a different means, for example using the e-mail and phone number in your own files. You may be amazed to find your friend is not stranded in a hotel in Wales, or anywhere else that is mentioned in the message. A valid response from the friend beats the scam immediately, but what if you can't get any contact that way?

Then what you do is to communicate with the sender of the message. At this point, being open-minded about it, we don't know for sure whether the person sending the message is who they say they are. However, it's quite easy to find out, but the method involves some subtlety. Here's how to do it...

Reply to the message and try to get details of the exact location the friend is stranded in. Then contact the hotel by a different route and see if they are there! Also, when you communicate with the person, bearing in mind they are either your friend or a criminal impersonator, be careful what you say. Your actual friend, you know facts about, and they know facts about you. The scamster does not know those facts. Keep it that way. You can soon determine which situation (friend or fiend) is true. For example, you could say "Good to hear from you! It's been a long time since we've been in touch! Where was that we met last?" ... and then you see if the other person knows. The scamster will try to bluff their way through or will ignore the question. Your actual friend will know and may seem surprised but will say something recognisable that the con-merchant would not know.

You can be quite inquisitive, as in the "friend" scenario, the other person will be keen to tell you all about their situation and how it all came about, and you will recognise familiar things about them. In contrast, the confidence-trickster will try to avoid any discussion. They want the money, and are you going to pay or not?

You can ask about the alleged hotel at which your supposed friend is stranded, and the name of the manager, etc. However, don't take at face-value any info that comes in. You have to approach these things from another angle. Scamsters seldom do their research very well, and you can easily rumble them as the facts won't add up. So, the e-mail person gives you the name of the hotel and the town, and the name of the manager. You then look up the phone number on a search (ie don't accept their version of the phone number).

Even if you are not a close friend, you can still rumble the scamsters by using the "Wolfie"* method as seen on the movie "Terminator2". You ask about something which is fictional, and see if the other person goes along with it. For example, supposing you say "Now then me old mate! Are you still in the parrot exporting business? Is Charlie still doing alright? I thought you always carried about $10,000 around with you just in case of problems". Now assuming that your friend isn't actually a parrot exporter, probably doesn't know Charlie, and isn't in the habit of carrying cash about like that, then the friend will wonder what the heck you are asking about. In contrast, a scamster may say that parrot-exporting went through a sharp decline in business, but Charlie is OK, and the money was lost because of [some unlikely scenario]. They have gone along with all of the made-up suppositions.

You have to remember to avoid contaminating the situation by giving away any details which could be used to confirm things. It's a bit like trying to floor someone who is pretending to read your mind when in fact they are a conjurer who's just rather good at cold-reading. You have to avoid giving away any info, while at the same time throwing in a few things to trip them up.

As it's e-mail, you can re-read your tactical response (before you send it), first as if it were your friend reading it, and secondarily as if it were a scamster reading it. You are aiming to get divergency between these two scenarios.

Here are some other views of the same scam...










* Wolfie (as per Terminator2) ...

The friendly Terminator is on the phone to someone who is either John Connor's foster mother Janelle or to an enemy Terminator doing a very good impersonation of Janelle. In the background there's a dog barking and the friendly Terminator quietly asks John Connor what the dog's name is. John replies "Max". The friendly Terminator then makes up a randomly-generated alternative convincing dog name "Wolfie" and says down the phone "Hey Janelle, what's wrong with Wolfie? I can hear him barking".

If it had been the actual Janelle on the line, she'd have sounded confused and said something about Max. However, the response instead is... "Wolfie's fine, honey, Wolfie's just fine. Where are you?"

At this point the friendly Terminator hangs up the phone, as the enemy has been tripped up by that cunning ploy.