Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Is my friend stranded in Nigeria?

So the other day I got an email from a woman that I know but don't really hang out with often. I hear from her every couple of weeks via email, so even though we don't see each other I sort of know what she's up to, but not in much detail. We're more of acquaintances than close friends. The subject of the email was "Urgent." Normally I might be suspicious of any email that says "urgent", but I know that her work and life circumstances can sometimes make this word relevant.

<<== No Way is this woman going to Nigeria (photo by Malingering )

This is the text from her email. I've removed her name--you know for protection.

Happy new year in advance.

Actually i need you to help send $2000 today, i had traveled to west Africa few days ago with intention that i will return home before the new year, i am stuck in Nigeria right now. i lost my wallet that contain money and contact information, i don't have access to phone except email . please do loan me the money i will refund it as soon as i return. you can send the money VIA Western Union or Money Gram to my name and this address.

Name: S######## R############
Add: 38, Oke Aro street
Akure City, Ondo State. Nigeria

I would need the Money transfer control number M.T.C.N, text question and answer and senders name. to pick up the money.this is weird, please keep this very confidential because no one is aware of this trip, i will explain better when i arrive.

You probably guessed right away that this was a scam and that my friend's email was likely hijacked. Fortunately all of us that know this woman didn't fall for the scam. But still you never know.

I was working furiously at the time this came in on a complex writing project. I read the email quickly and didn't think much of the small grammatical errors. I thought this was especially strange because this is a woman who wouldn't travel anywhere that didn't have a mall but then it didn't seem constructed by a computer or foreign speaker. So I did a crazy thing.

I sent back a reply. It read "S######, what is this?"

About an hour later I got this response:
I know this is weird, but is real. I really need help this time.

This still didn't convince me. So I decided to call her at home. Her voicemail box was full--probably from everyone who received the email. So I did nothing. And then two days later I got this email:

Thanks for all your phone calls, texts and emails. I am not in Nigeria, although could use a few $$$$. Someone hacked into my email and infected my entire hard drive. I have been working on getting the situation corrected. Today just broke off and bought a new computer as the hard drive was gone. (it was 8 years old, good excuse.) I have to tell you it felt so awesome to be reminded how many people care about me. Sometimes we forget. Have a happy and safe new year!!

I have no idea how my friend's email was originally hijacked. There are so many ways it can happen. But what we should take away from this experience is to be careful. And also consider the sender. Like I mentioned there is no way I could picture this woman travelling to Nigeria. That was the one thing that her entire email contact list agreed on. Never send money to anyone who requests this from email. There are ways to verify a real emergency. Remember the guy that was saved by using Twitter.

If this should happen to you of course you should run virus scanning software. But that doesn't always do the trick. You'll also need to contact your email provider's technical support. You'll need to change your account password. You may have to change your email address.

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