Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"My Predicament (I need your help)"

First thing Saturday morning I was confronted with an appeal sent from my daughter-in-law's gmail account. Here is the full text of the message entitled "My predicament (I need your help):"

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.

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.

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 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.


Kirsten said...

I laughed out loud when I saw this title show up in my Google Reader. I'm glad my predicament made for some good source material for you! :)

InformationFluency said...

Here's another version of the email scam:

Anonymous said...

i got the same email today.. with a variation that "i have my passport with me, since i left it in the hotel room"

Luke Brincat said...

Hi, My friend got hacked just like you mention, she can't access her Hotmail, Facebook ...

what can be done? is there a way to recover her account? i already used the windows live help they sould contact me within 24hrs... but the feeling of having your identity stolen is huge!

This is a copy of the email i Received supposedly from my friend:

I'm writing this with tears in my eyes,sorry I did not inform you about my trip.I actually made a quick travel to London and unfortunately attacked and mugged at gun point on the way to my hotel,all cash,credit card and cell were stolen off me but luckily I still have my passport with me.
I've been to the embassy and the Police here but they're not helping issues at all and my return flight leaves anytime from now but I`m having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won't let me leave until I settle the bills.
Am freaked out at the moment.

Luke Brincat said...

The Same Happened to My Friends
I managed to get some small information please check my blog i created:

Anonymous said...

My email was hacked like this. My told me about it first thing one morning because both of our phones are linked to our emails so we caught it early. The benefit of this happening was I was able to intercept any replies, which I did to one email from my brother who is in the army and was in Iraq at the time, so he had no idea if I had been traveling. Anyway, I had some really important stuff saved on my email like bank and loan receipts but nothing was or has been tampered with or really even looked at as all the ones that were left unread were still unread. To get my email back I contacted hotmail service and they had me fill out a questionair with specifics pertaining to what was within my email, like name of folders I created, even titles of received mail. Anyway, took a day for them to email another account I provided that gave me a link to reset my password and get my email account back. I was so worried because I had just applied for several teaching positions and giving them my email. Just today I received an email from a contact I have,probably taken from my account, which if someone is hacked they should remind their friends to change their passwords because they become a new target list. So I replied and got the hacker in a conversation ending with a number he gave me for the hotel he was staying in. +447024094823 after that he stopped replying(I pretended to fall for the scam). I even offered to send my credit card info but he didn't bite. I didn't get anything when I googled the number, maybe someone else has a better chance. It would be great to catch these guys. All the best.