How to spot email scammers and hackers

About two or three years ago I got an email from a local mom who was organizing a fundraising ball hockey tournament. Her son and mine went to school together, right through grade 8 and are now in high school together.

I don’t know her, really, but I’ve met her once or twice. My son knows the boy but they are not really hanging out much. They are casual friends, kind of thing. Classmates.

The mom and I, we don’t really communicate over apps. Unless she or I need support for youth sports fundraising, we don’t typically connect.

Which is why it was a little weird when she sent me an email.

There are some immediate red flags in that message which jumped right out at me:

  • In the subject line, it says checking in. Why would someone whom I barely know what to ‘check in’?
  • Why would someone who barely knows me need a favour from me?
  • The way it’s written doesn’t sound like the way normal Canadian moms write (starting the last sentence with ‘Please’, for instance).
  • An English speaking Canadian mom would spell favour with a u (although some people will use American spelling, but mostly not).

My first thought was, who is this and how did they get my email? Then I remembered – I’m all over the internet. I do everything with my email (although I have several backup email addresses as well).

I decided to play along, to see just what the so-called *favor* was. So I responded:

Me: Hi, what’s up?

Them: I am sorry for bothering you with this mail, I need to get an GOOGLE PLAY GIFT CARD for my Niece, Its her birthday but i can’t do this now because I’m currently traveling and i tried purchasing online but unfortunately no luck with that.Can you get it from any store around you? I’ll pay back as soon as i am back. Kindly let me know if you can handle this.

Await your soonest response.

I mean, the spelling, the wording, the urgency, the ‘Await your soonest response’… 🙄

This is not how normal people who know each other (even just a little) communicate.

But I continued to play along. I figured, why would someone go to this kind of trouble to get a gift card? They must be up to something…

I emailed back where I would get such a gift card, and what denomination they were looking for. Partly I thought, this is a pretty elaborate scam for a $25 gift card…

This is what they said:

Thank you very much. Google play gift card are sold at almost every grocery stores or drug stores around in the gift card section . Total amount needed is $300 ($100 denomination) I need you to scratch the back of the 3 cards to reveal the pins, then take a snap shot of the back of the card showing the pin and have the photos attached in the email then send to me. I will be so glad if you get it today

Um…yeah. I’m gonna fork over $300 and send them all the details just like that?

Besides the fact that a $300 gift card for a niece (whom I assume to be a child or teenager) is kind of a steep gift for a birthday, no? I mean, I don’t know too many people who have that kind of money to spend on non-offspring on their birthdays…

But wait. There’s more… 🙂

Since they are emailing me, I wanted to catch them in their lie. I don’t know about you, but etransfers via a bank are pretty much the staple of transferring funds these days, especially in youth sports. If you have a bank and an email address, it takes seconds to transfer the money to someone.

So my next email to them was this:

Can you etransfer me the amount?

After all, they have my email address, so sending ME the money ahead of time should be no problem at all. 😉

Unsurprisingly, this is what they responded:

Can’t do that where i am at the moment, Please let me know when you can have the cards.. I await your response.

Thank you,

I dropped my communications with them after that. But I wasn’t done.

Next, I went to all my apps and removed my email address (and inserted a new one without my name). I realize my actual email is still out there, but at least now it’s not as easy to get at it.

Then, I scrolled through my communications with the mom from a few years ago and verified what email address she used at the time. It wasn’t the same one, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Anyone can change their email address and create a new gmail one. (Like I did after this fiasco…)

I did email the mom directly using the original email I had on file and told her it looks like someone is impersonating her. I wanted to alert her before I reported it to the cyberspace police (or whatever they’re called).

I don’t have much faith that anything will come out of reporting it, but at the very least, I thought I’d educate my readers with this post. It’s easy to get hooked into believing this shit…if you fall for it, don’t beat yourself up, it happens, but take this as an example of just how creative these criminals will get.

Imagine, if they have access to her address book, and say three out of fifty people respond by following directions, they would now have $900 of stolen money.

Ugh.

Happy Tuesday!

16 thoughts on “How to spot email scammers and hackers

  1. I watched an interesting TED talk the other day – about information theft. The presenter talked about the “porn star name” meme – and got everybody in the audience to follow the rules, and tell the person next to them their porn star name. Then he informed everybody that they had just told them the most common password reminders. And people fill those damn apps in every day.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve not seen anyone asking for money for a gift card before — it does seam a bit weak (to say the least) for an emergency. The language is always a red flag for these types of scam — it reads like the scammer learned English on some sort of “Speak Business English” crash course.

    It’s interesting that the person being impersonated is someone you know. It’s possible that someone has gotten into either her email address book or one of her social networks. She should change her passwords as soon as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve seen this scam being talked about before. It really kind of blows my mind that people try this kind of obvious stuff and that there are people that sadly fall for it. Glad you weren’t one of them.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The gift card scams are all over the place. Here, gullible people are being conned into paying bills and giving money via itunes or other such cards! As if your utilities or institutions would insist on being paid in a gift card! I agree about the immediate red flags. Anyone who knows anything at all about language, spelling, grammar and tone could see through any kind of written contact. The hardest scams to avoid are the clever tech ones, where some malware takes over your computer and you’re given a fake Microsoft Windows contact. I got stung by that one but never again.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, that is weird. Usually, I have someone from Nigeria informing me that I am a lottery winner and would I send the money and then deposit a check or something like that. Hmm, if I had $10,000 in my account, would I be pausing to read the message.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I followed a blogger for years and then things got weird. She was posting about being hacked, stalked, all sorts of really weird and even dangerous stuff. I loved her writing but was really leery to continue commenting/following, etc. Soon after there was complete silence from the blog and then out of the blue (she had my personal email by my permission) I get an email from ‘her’ saying she had started a new blog…. here’s how you can find me…. etc. I fished around a bit, did some back and forth much like you did and decided this was not ‘her’ and blocked the email.
    Fortunately I’ve not had anymore contact and don’t feel comfortable trying to reach out to find the real person, fearing things will start up all over again 😦

    Liked by 1 person

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