Wednesday morning started like any other Wednesday morning. I woke up, later than I should’ve as usual, groggy from another late Tuesday night of school and sit-com reruns. After my shower, the wife told me that she just got a text from her sister saying that her husband had received a strange email from my address and I should probably check it out.
I opened up the lap top as I put my shoes on and logged into my email account. Sixteen messages. A lot, but not an unheard of amount first thing in the morning. I have a lot of Facebook friends. I did however notice that I received an email from an Andy Bauer with the subject HELP NEEDED!!!!!. I was pretty out of it the previous night, but I didn’t recall sending myself any distress signals and I don’t know any other Andy Bauers, so my suspicions were aroused. The message read thusly:
I’m writing this with tears rolling down my cheeks aggressively, I came down to United Kingdom for a short vacation unfortunately I was mugged at the park of the hotel where I lodge,all cash,credit card and cell phone were stolen from me but luckily for me I still have my passports with me…I’ve been to the embassy and the Police here but they’re not helping issues at all and my flight leaves in less than 3hrs from now but I am having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won’t let me leave until I settle the bills…I’m freaked out at the moment.
A few thoughts on the message itself…
My first clue that this was a scam of some sort was the fact that I was pretty sure I was not in the United Kingdom. Secondly, my tears are rarely aggressive. Mine are much more of the passive variety. Also, note that is says that “I came down to the United Kingdom.” While many of my ancestors did migrate from Norway, I myself have never visited the Land of the Midnight Sun, nor the only other land I could reasonably claim to come “down” to the British Isles from, Iceland. Nor would I ever care to visit Iceland. Not with those volcanos and Bjork, and whatnot. In addition, this faux Andy claims that the Police were of no help, but as a big fan of police I simply could not believe this was true. Lastly, technically this entire plea is one long run-on sentence and I like to think of myself as a pretty good grammarian and would never allow myself to deliver such a grammatically poor message to all my friends and relatives and besides the general overall tone and style of the message have a certain “I’m a Nigerian prince who needs your help and I will give you millions of dollars if you help me” quality about it and anyway I would never write such an egregiously poor sentence like that no never.
So, right off the bat I was pretty sure the email didn’t come from me.
Most of my other 16 messages in my inbox were from friends and family letting me know that I had apparently been hacked. I spent a good part of my morning fielding text messages, phone calls, and emails from concerned acquaintances, assuring them that I had been not mugged in the UK or that I was aware of the security breach. There were a few people who were almost taken in by the scam, not for any numskullery on their part, but for legitimate concern. Actually, I shouldn’t say there were almost taken in, rather they wanted to make sure this was indeed a farce before ignoring it completely, and risk leaving me stranded and penniless in the hands of a disgruntled British innkeeper. These were folks in my contacts who are not close friends and I rarely speak with, via email or in person, so they wouldn’t have any other reason to believe that I wouldn’t be in the UK. One of these good Samaritans gave me a call. Once I explained the situation they told me that they had actually replied to the email and had received in reply instructions on how to wire them money, how much money to send, and an address and phone number of the hotel where I was supposedly staying! Very interesting. I asked him to forward me the messages. Here they are:
Yes am at the local library now seeking for help from all my friends and relatives. You can quickly go to any Western Union Outlet or Grocery store nearest to you and get the payment wired. All you just need to transfer the money it’s the below information.
Location…47 LOUNDOUN SQUARE
CARDIFF, GLAMORGAN CF10 5JN
Hotel Manager Number:+447024020618
As soon as you wired the money just get back to me with the transfer details such as the Money Transfer Control Numbers. That will enable me to pick up the funds here.
Hope to read back from you… I owe you a lot.
And then again, in case our good Samaritan forgot:
I’m so glad you replied back,I have nothing left on me right now and I was lucky to have my Life and passport with me,It would have been worst if they had also went away with my passport.Well right now am in need of your assistance…I was wondering if you can lend me a sum of $1,500usd so that i can sort the hotel bills and get a cab to the Airport…you can have it wired to my name via Western Union. I am really glad i still have my passport because it would serve as the only source to pick-up the money at Western Union here.I really appreciate your responsiveness,and am using this hour to tell you that i will definitely return the money with interest as soon as am back to in State.Here is the Info Below……..
At this point, I think my friend was more interested in doing a little detective work himself. He called the “hotel” and spoke with the “manager.” When he asked to speak with Andy, he was told that “she” had gone to the public library to send emails to friends and family. But wait! Wasn’t Andy forbidden to leave the hotel by this same manager until the debts were settled? Did the hotel not have internet access? Was Andy required to leave the clothes on his back as collateral? Was he being followed? Did they place a tracking device on him? So many unanswered questions.
As if he wasn’t already suspicious, my friend was further tipped off by the fact that the “hotel manager” referred to me as a she. That’s when he decided to give me a call.
When I accessed the hacked account I found little trace that someone had been impersonating me. There was no evidence of the fraudulent message in the Sent folder. My contact list was empty, which I found odd, but its an account I haven’t sent a message from in months and I may have cleaned out the address book myself when I switched services. But then, how did they get all the names of people to contact? This is still a mystery. The other thing they did do, and that one of my friends noticed when he received the email, was change the reply-to address. So when someone would reply to their email it would go to a different address not my hacked one. They were sneaky though and modified it only slightly so that the untrained eye wouldn’t likely notice. I alerted the service provider to the hack and changed all the passwords.
I asked a cop friend of mine if this was even worth reporting and he said it probably wasn’t. Since this was just an attempt at fraud and nothing was actually lost and is international in nature, I could file a report with the FBI but it wouldn’t be pursued. There are too many cases of actual loss that there are no resources to spend on the attempts.
But, I decided to do some investigating on my own. I googled the address that was given and it came back to a small grocery store called Nasir & Sons. Here are some reviews that came up on google. Hmmm, it appears I’m not their first targeted victim (the newest review is mine).
Of course, I had to call. I spoke with the “hotel manager” and, like my friend, was told that I (still a she) had gone to the library to contact friends and family. I asked if I could just send the money directly to them but they said their credit card machine was broken and I should just follow whatever instructions I gave myself. I didn’t identify who I was, I was just having a little fun. But I will probably call back later…when its like 3 AM in Britain. That’ll show ‘em!
I gotta be honest, it actually made for a pretty enjoyable morning. Who knew identity theft could be so much fun! Fortunately, no one actually lost anything (hopefully I’m not speaking too soon). The emails exchanged with friends and family about it were entertaining, and I got a pretty good story to tell out of it. Who else do you know has spoken on the phone with an international fraud kingpin? That’s what I thought. Not bad for a Wednesday.