INDIANAPOLIS - Entire e-mail contact lists have been hacked in two new crimes reported to Indianapolis police, with one scammer claiming to be stuck on a typhoon ravaged Pacific island.
A 76-year-old Indianapolis woman reported that every name on her e-mail contact list received an urgent e-mail, claiming that she was stuck and needing money in the Philippines, where cleanup from a devastating typhoon is making worldwide headlines.
The e-mails posed as the victim, who started receiving phone calls from her friends who had received the e-mail. None of them fell for it.
A few weeks earlier, a west Indianapolis pre-school teacher reported to police that her AT&T/Yahoo e-mail account was also hacked; allowing a scammer to send e-mails to hundreds of her contacts, including Girl Scout troop leaders and most of her congregation of church.
“Now they’re victimizing my contacts, and there are a lot of people that I love and care about on those contacts,” said Christi Morton.
In her case, the e-mails sent to the people on her contact list appeared to be coming from Morton’s e-mail address that was familiar to her friends.
She shared the e-mail with the Call 6 Investigators:
“I really hope you get this fast. I could not inform anyone about our trip, because it was impromptu. We had to be in Kharkov, Ukraine for a program, The program was successful, but our journey has turned sour. We misplaced our wallet and cell phone on our way back to the hotel we lodge in after we went for sight seeing. The wallet contained all the valuables we had. Now, our passport is in custody of the hotel management pending when we make payment.
“I am sorry if I am inconveniencing you, but I have only very few people to run to now. I will be indeed very grateful if I can get a short term loan from you ($2,300USD) this will enable me sort our hotel bills and get my sorry self back home.”
Since the e-mail was actually sent from her account, it even included a scripture that has been included for years at the end of each e-mail she sent.
However, Morton said the improper grammar and the lower case letter “I” should have tipped off anyone who actually knows her.
“Anybody who’s been around me for a few minutes knows that I never do a little “I." When I’m typing, I still try to do all the grammatically correct things to do … and I wouldn’t say USD. If I needed $2,300, I would just come out and tell you it was $2,300,” she said.
She said her pastor quickly alerted fellow parishioners that the e-mail was a fake, but a fellow parent in her daughter’s Girl Scout group nearly fell for it.
“I would have felt horribly if somebody would have sent money because they thought they were helping me,” said Morton.
Terry Tolliver, Deputy Director for Consumer Protection with the Indiana Attorney General’s office, called it a new twist on e-mails that have been fooling real victims into wiring money for years.
“They generally tell you don’t let anybody know that this is being done,” Tolliver said.
He urged people to “dial it back” and investigate before even considering such a request.
“If you receive the e-mail, maybe you ought to make some phone calls. The e-mails generally say don’t call anybody for that very reason, because they know that if I called the woman who was supposedly on a trip overseas, she would have picked up the phone and then that would have stopped the scam,” Tolliver said.
He said scam e-mails can be reported to his agency for investigation by logging onto IndianaConsumer.com.
“Don’t just blindly send the money without doing some background,” he said.
In Morton’s case, a friend started to question the authenticity of the e-mail and actually sent messages back and forth with the scammer.
“I was ticked,” said Morton.
She said the scammer sent more and more messages to her friend, saying she couldn’t believe they would doubt her in her time of need.
“They acted offended and tried to make her feel badly,” Morton said.