It is with profound sense of sadness i wrote this email to you. I don't know how you will find this but you just have to forgive me for not telling you before leaving. I traveled down to United Kingdom on Thursday for a short vacation but unfortunately,i got mugged at gun point on my way to the hotel where i lodged.All my money and all other vital documents including my credit cards and my cell phone have been stolen by the muggers.Maybe you too received a message like this from someone you know. It's an annoying example of what happens when an email account gets hacked; it also challenges you to use your digital investigation skills.
I've been to the embassy and the Police here but they're not helping issues at all,Things are difficult here and i don't know what to do at the moment that why i email to ask if you can lend me £800.00 so i can settle the hotel bills and get a return ticket back home. Please do me this great help and i promise to refund the money as soon as i get back home
I look forward to your positive response,so i can send you the details you need to send the money to me through Western Union.
I would use this with grades 6 and up to stimulate critical information literacy skills. The example provides some interesting clues which immediately caused me to be skeptical. These were the questions that ran through my mind:
1. Do I know where she is now? Not for sure, but having just spent 2 weeks with us for Christmas, I seriously doubted she would take off for a short vacation to the UK. Still, anything is possible. Quickest way to find out? Call her cell phone. In fact, many of her friends who also received the message did just that. If she answers, the claim about her cell phone being stolen is false.
2. Is this how she writes? This is not how the person I know writes. Too many awkward phrases and grammatical mistakes. Words can be like body language, revealing things the writer intended to cover up. Who would write to a close relative using "I look forward to your positive response..."? That's pretty formal for family. Other keywords from the context that don't match the style (personality) of the person I know are: 'profound sense of sadness', 'you just have to forgive me', 'traveled down to UK', 'great help' and 'refund'. There are other ways to say these things that would be more characteristic of my daughter-in-law.
3. Can you travel to the US from the UK without a passport? Since all vital documents were stolen, how can she board an airplane?
You may see other things in the email that don't add up. The point is, it always pays to investigate before committing money online. Since this email went out to all her gmail contacts, I'm glad no one that we know of is out the money.
As a teaching example, challenge your students to come up with questions about the content of the message that would prevent someone from being tricked into sending money. Have them develop a profile of the author from the keywords and how they are used. Reading between the lines in this way is an information literacy skill that's also useful for detecting bias.