Thursday, April 1, 2010

E-mail scammers hijacking e-mail accounts for the purpose of con jobs

I'm sure almost all Internet users have encountered e-mail scams every now and then in their respective e-mail accounts. I have also encountered the same. However, a relatively new kind of e-mail scam has surfaced recently. And I almost became a victim of it. This happened on 29 March 2010. I was using the Internet as usual and was checking my e-mail as I always did on a daily basis.

I came across an e-mail message, supposedly sent by my friend, because I'd saved his e-mail address in the Contacts function. The e-mail message I supposedly received from him stated he was stuck in the UK for a conference and he had misplaced his wallet, amongst other things, MONEY. This email further requested me to loan him £1,300 (more than RM 6,000) so that he could settle his bills to return home to Malaysia, and that he will reimburse the amount of money I loan to him.

I found this request to be extremely weird as my friend is a professional with a very respectable reputation. He wouldn't want to borrow money from me as he is very much aware of my current situation. Here came the hard part - it was a battle between my instinct and my head and heart. I was struggling with the desire to help him as well as the desire to decline his request. Mind you, we are quite close, and this struggle proved to be a tough one.

This was what I did - I corresponded with the culprit who hijacked my friend's email account, unfortunately through my friend's e-mail account to gather more information about his "situation" in the UK. The culprit's style of writing the e-mail messages mimicked the style my friend would use when he corresponds with me through his hijacked e-mail account. However, due to my extremely observant nature, I managed to detect some irregularities in the e-mail messages.

The culprit had used some words, which were inaccurate in the context of the e-mail message. Also, he had committed numerous punctuation errors while typing the e-mail messages. I knew my friend wouldn't have commited the above-mentioned errors. Even if he did, it would be not as glaring as what the culprit had done. Not to mention, the e-mail recipient column was left blank in the first e-mail message sent to me, an obvious characteristic of e-mail scams. Last but not least, the address the culprit had given me was also wrong, it was located in London and NOT Sheffield as he had claimed.

My next move was to try to contact my friend at his workplace to confirm his whereabouts; the worst case scenario would be to get in touch with his wife; I would pull out at all stops to save this friendship simply because I value it GREATLY. I called his workplace and the staff who took my call told me that he had just walked out from his office to attend to some important matters. I then knew from this confirmation that this whole thing was a HOAX, a CON JOB! My friend COULD NOT be in two places at the SAME TIME! I left the message with his staff to have him contact me, PRONTO, either through his alternative e-mail or phone.

I really thank God my friend did in the shortest time possible and he confirmed that his e-mail account had been hijacked. I also credit my instinct for warning me about the danger of fulfilling this request, in the struggle to come up with the rational and logical decision to resolve this matter. If I'd came to a deadlock, the next step I would probably have done was to consult my parents about this issue. Although I'm legally an adult, I would often confer with my parents on issues I cannot resolve, and it proved to be a wise move as you would learn a lot from your parents' approach in resolving issues in life.

Had I given in to my head and heart I would be more than RM 6,000 poorer by now and would probably regret the irrational decision I'd made for a very long time. Also, I could have accused my friend of a crime he would NEVER EVER wanted to commit AT ALL in his lifetime. This would have destroyed our friendship, the mutual trust we have built all this while.

Lesson learned - try to be level-headed in solving issues like this. Always confirm with the person concerned if he/she REALLY wanted a favour from you. If you know the person well and both of you value the friendship, chances are he/she would be completely honest with you and would not take advantage of you; he/she would have understood why you decline his/her request. A person who values and stays true to a friendship would never ever betray you unless extremely dire circumstances forced him/her to do so.

Final point to note - always give your instinct the benefit of the doubt. From my past experiences, my instinct has ALMOST ALWAYS been right and I have learned to pay more attention my instinct when I'm faced with difficult situations.