Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Riverview-South Central Kingsport Says NO WAY to Scammers!

Many of our Douglass Alumni spend time traveling around the country, even around the world, on vacations, on business trips, a few even serving in the military.

So, it didn't seem too out of the ordinary, to receive a Yahoo email from Virginia (Jenny) Hankins recently, that began with her talking about being in the United Arab Emirates country of Dubai, for a program entitled "Empowering Youth to Fight Racism, HIV-AIDS, Poverty, and Lack of Education." The program is taking place in Malaysia, Oman and Dubai, the email read.

But then, the message takes a shocking turn.

"I am really stranded in Dubai because I forgot my little bag in the Taxi where my money, passport, documents and other valuable things were kept on my way to the Hotel where I am staying. I am now owning a hotel bill of $1500 and they wanted me to pay the bill soon else they will have to seize my bag and hand me over to the Hotel Management."

And then.. the real reason for the email:

"Help me get back home, I need you to help me with the hotel bill and i will also need $1500 to feed and help myself back home so please can you help me with a sum of $3000 to sort out my problems here?"

There's just one LITTLE problem with that.

"I have never been to Dubai or the United Arab Emirates. I have no intentions of EVER going there."

Those words from Virginia Hankins, within moments of this reporter telling about the email her friends are getting, supposedly from her. She was at home in South Central Kingsport.

Someone has apparently gotten her Yahoo email address book, and sent the above message to everybody listed.

"This is a typical phishing scheme to get money from someone," says Jim Winsett of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga, Tennessee. "These scammers are typically in some foreign country themselves, probably Nigeria or another African nation, in a cramped boiler room surrounded by other scammers all logged onto the Internet, using information from mailing lists, that has been sold to them by still other thieves, who have stolen the information OFF the Internet.

"The first thing that labels this a scam, is the misspelled words," says Mr. Winsett, after looking at the email supposedly from Ms. Hankins. "I'm sure Ms. Hankins knows how to spell the word 'owing.' (It's spelled "o-w-n-i-n-g" in the email). "She also probably knows how to make complete sentences with punctuation, like the words "soon" and "else". Obviously, the correct way to word that part of the sentence would be "soon, or else," not "soon else."

"Spammers are not known to be good spellers," Mr. Winsett says, "and most of them have no command of the English language, so any misspelled or non-coordinated words and lack of punctuation, are always a dead giveaway to a scam."

"But the fact that they're also using a familiar email server like Yahoo, is supposed to make you feel more comfortable in responding," he says.

"The best advice we can give, is to never respond to an email like that without FIRST, checking with the familiar person it's from. Then, report it to the proper authorities, like the Federal Trade Commission (that website is www.ftc.gov).

"Yahoo is where I collect all of my junk mail," says Ms. Hankins. "I don't know if there's anyway to prevent this from happening again, but everybody who gets an email with my name on it supposedly from Dubai, just needs to trash it. It's definitely not from me. I don't even know how the spammer got my email address book in the first place."

"There are so many people out there who have so much computer knowledge and so much time on their hands," she says, "and they are constantly looking for ways to cause mayhem for us casual computer users."

"Again, I have no intentions of ever going to the United Arab Emirates, or Dubai," she says.

"I will only continue to visit those places on the Evening News."