Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 17, 2014

Beware of faraway friends and strangers who want to give you money

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — I am wary about opening emails from people I do not know or other suspicious sources. I certainly don’t open the attachments, and I delete them as soon as possible.

A few days ago, I did check one that was slugged “Sad Trip.” It appeared to be from a woman I know, but the message started waving my red flags.

Apparently, she and her family had gone to the Ukraine unannounced several days ago for a short vacation. That was surprising. Right now, the Ukraine comes right behind North Korea and Somalia as places where I would like to take a vacation. Being caught up in a revolution or attacked by warlords isn’t my idea of relaxation.

She said her family was robbed “in an alley by a gang of thugs” while walking back to their hotel. The robbers took all their money, their cell phones, and their credit cards. They were in a foreign land with nothing in their pockets.

Naturally, they were having trouble with their hotel bill and the flight back to the United States. Could I forward them $2,500? She said any contributions would help, but I’m sure she was hoping for that $2,500.

Well, I’m not sending money. I can’t imagine this woman going to the Ukraine for any reason let alone a vacation. The message was just another rendition of a fairly common scam.

The scam criminals find your name on the Internet, find the names of your family and friends, and draft a pleading letter telling a tale of hardship and being marooned in another country. The last one I received claimed to be from Jeff Harvey at the Princeton Times. According to the message, Jeff was marooned in Scotland and needed some money.

Reporters like Jeff and me often find ourselves in places we didn’t expect and short on resources, but Scotland is more than a bit outside the area we cover. I was more likely to end up in Uganda. I didn’t respond to that message, either.

Anyone with an email account these days is being bombarded with messages. I have to delete dozens of old emails at a time. Some of them are for work or for recreation, but a lot of them are spam or scams. Scam artists are becoming very sophisticated, so being careful and more than a little suspicious is important. What looks like a legitimate message could by anything but legitimate.

For example, I once received a message that was allegedly from a local bank. It looked professional, but I knew immediately that it was a scam. First, a real bank would never ask for personal information via the Internet or over the telephone. Second, the bank the scam artists were pretending to represent wasn’t my bank. I immediately deleted the message.

Common sense is the most effective weapon against Internet scams. If the message doesn’t make sense, then it’s most likely a scam. Some of the stories make classic fairy tales sound logical.

Several years ago, I received a message from a person claiming to be an art dealer in London. She said that she was having trouble cashing in the travelers checks that American tourists offered her for her wares. Could I help by cashing them myself? I could keep some of the money for my trouble, of course.

London is one of the banking capitols of the world. She can’t take care of American travelers check in that city? That didn’t make any sense. Either she was a terrible businessperson or a scam artist. The offer was immediately sent to File 13 with the latest batch of spam.

Of course, I have received those messages from people claiming to be foreign princes or wealthy individuals that need to move huge sums of money from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia or some other exotic location. Naturally, they all promise to share the money with me. These rich foreign potentates can be very generous with their money.

Think about this proposal. Somebody with millions of dollars to move is going to contact a complete stranger in another country, then trust him or her to handle a fortune. That makes about as much sense as asking a complete stranger in a busy airport to watch your laptop computer or giving that person your ATM card and PIN number so they can get some cash for you.

 If you would do something like that, I have big bridge at the New River Gorge that’s for sale. It’s perfect for sightseeing, and if you like to put on a parachute and jump of bridges, this is the deal for you. Think of the revenue you could generate if you turned it into a toll bridge. About $1 million is a good price, but all reasonable offers will be considered. I would prefer cash and no questions asked.

Beware of friends lost in faraway places, rich foreigners that want you to move their money, and guys with very big bridges for sale. We might not be what we seem to be.

Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at