The New York County District Attorney’s Office’s Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau has been alerted to an increase in scams involving unlawfully accessed email accounts from web-based email providers.
Potential victims report receiving an urgent email from an account known to them. The email includes an urgent plea for money, recounting a false claim that the email sender was traveling abroad, typically in London, and was mugged or robbed of all cash and property. The email further requests that funds to be wired via Western Union to help cover expenses during the interim period, with a promise to repay the loan. The same email is sent to nearly every email address listed in the sender’s address book.
This scam relies on the fact the potential victim will act swiftly because of the urgency of the message coming from a trusted source – often the account of a friend, relative, or colleague. This scam has multiple victims — the people who receive this email as well as the sender, whose email account is compromised and used for the scam. The perpetrators often gain unauthorized access to the email account used for the scam through an earlier “phishing” (identity theft) scam, whereby the email account holder is tricked into revealing his or her password information.
An email sent on April 23, 2010, which was referred to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, is indicative of the emails that are included in this type of scam. It is signed with the first name of the email account holder.
Because the perpetrators of this scam have access to all of the saved emails in the compromised email accounts, the perpetrator may learn a significant amount of personal information about the email account holders and be able to convince skeptical recipients of these emails that the perpetrator is, in fact, the actual friend, relative, or colleague associated with the email account.
Some recipients of these emails have reported that they have subsequently received additional emails requesting money from different email accounts in continuing efforts by the perpetrators to commit more fraud. Usually the email addresses are only slightly changed by one letter or one number.
These types of scams attempt to take advantage of the kindness of individuals, as well as the fact that the emails come from what appear to be “trusted” email accounts, as opposed to from strangers.
Although ongoing investigations into these and similar scams indicate that many of these perpetrators are based overseas and outside the reach of local law enforcement, District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. suggests some tips to avoid becoming a victim of this and similar email schemes:
* Avoid immediately responding to information provided via email until you have first verified the source. Confirm the information contained in an email by speaking directly with the parties in question.
* Be skeptical of any request for money made via email, particularly if accompanied by claims of urgency or necessity.
* Do not respond to unsolicited email such as “spam,” since these emails may potentially contain software that is harmful to your computer and which may be designed to compromise your passwords and other personal identifying information.
* Be extremely cautious about sending any personal identifying information, banking information, or any other sensitive information in response to email requests. Unless you are expecting such a request, or you have initiated them yourself, in most instances you should not be sending this information to anybody.
* Be cautious about any emails which appear to come from financial institutions. Many scams involve emails that appear to be legitimate bank communications and even provide links to the financial institution’s web site. These links may look exactly like the actual bank’s web site, but in reality, may be capturing the login and password information that you provide.
If you suspect that your email account has been compromised, or you have been the victim of any other type of email fraud or scam, please contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center (“IC3”), a centralized, national complaint reporting database for Internet-related crimes. The IC3 is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National White Collar Crime Center, and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.