Think you’ll never fall for one of those email scams — you know, the ones where someone hijacks a friend’s Gmail account and pretends to be a traveler in distress?
Well, if you think you’re too smart to become a victim, think again. Carlo has a doctorate in math, and I’ve agreed to use only his first name, because he lost four months’ salary just before Christmas to this electronic swindle.
“I wouldn’t like to be publicly known as a dupe in my school,” he says.
Carlo wants to know: Is the money gone forever? Or can I help him recover some of it?
I’m fascinated by how this crime unfolded. For the first time ever, a victim has allowed me to republish the entire correspondence between himself and the perpetrator, in its entirety. (One thing to note is that English isn’t Carlo’s first language.)
The ruse started when a respected mathematician’s email account was taken over by thieves. They sent the following email.
Apologies for having to reach out to you like this, but I made a quick trip to London,United Kingdom and had my bag stolen from me with my passport and credit cards in it.
The embassy is willing to help by authorizing me to fly without my passport, I just have to pay for a ticket and settle Hotel bills. Unfortunately, I can’t have access to funds without my credit card, I’ve made contact with my bank but they need more time to come up with a new one.
I was thinking of asking you to lend me some quick funds that I can give back as soon as I get in. I really need to be on the next available flight.
Here’s how Carlo replied:
I am honored to be able to help you. Just let me know how I can send you money and how much money.
I think that the easiest way for me is to give you the number of my credit card.
Tomorrow morning early I will ring you up. Why do you need to catch the first fly back?
Couldn’t you just enjoy the rest of your stay in London and settle everything when you are back ?
Please rely on my help, I’ll do everything I can.
So Carlo was willing to believe this came from the professor, and eager to help. That was his first mistake.
The “Professor” replies:
Thanks, please I don’t know how much you can help me with but I need to borrow about $2,300 or whatever you can help me with, I will pay back as soon as I get back home.
Can you make western union transfer to me, please let me know if possible so I can forward you details for transfer. Thanks.
Ah, the demand for cash. That should have been another tip-off.
Yes, I can send you that amount of money by Western Union. I’ll do it tomorrow as soon as my bank and offices open. I thought you were sleeping. I’ll now try to ring you up.
Now things start to get interesting: