The “stranded traveler” scam has been around for years, but this summer’s vacation season it seems to be hitting Saudis especially hard. I’ve received at least a dozen requests in the past two weeks for cash from friends “stranded” abroad. Here’s a sample email:
“I’m sorry for this odd request because it might get to you too urgent, but it’s because of the situation of things right now. I’m stuck in Madrid, Spain with my family right now. We came down here for a short vacation then I was robbed. Worse of it is that bags, cash and cards and my cell phone was stolen at GUN POINT. It’s such a crazy experience for us, we need help flying back home. The authorities are not being 100% supportive. The good thing is we still have our passports and return tickets but currently are having troubles paying off the hotel bills and also getting a cab to take us to the airport. Please I need you to loan me ($2,650 USD). I will refund you as soon as I’m back home, I promise. You can wire it to my name via Western Union. Here are the details you need to get it to me.”
The email went on to provide the hacked account holder’s real name and supposed address in Spain. Although I already knew it was a scam, I replied to the email. The hacker wrote back, thanking me and urging me to get over to Western Union right away. There was a slight error in the “request” for cash. This time only $2,450 was needed but I was advised to send an email the moment I had made the Western Union transfer.
Immediately, I contacted the email holder’s secretary and found that yes he was on vacation and yes he had just come to know the account was hacked. Unfortunately, Yahoo was taking its “sweet time” to shut down the account and meanwhile the hacker was very busy soliciting funds.
If you are in this situation there are a couple of things to do right away. First, if possible, send a short sms to your entire phone address book advising everyone that your email account has been compromised. Second, contact Western Union. Kristen Kelly, director of Corporate Communications at Western Union stated that the criminals involved in the Stranded Traveler fraud are “very good at making false identification” which they use to pick up the money at any Western Union location in the country where the money is sent. However, if Western Union is notified of the criminal activity, they can fight it.
“We can put a block in our system against money being sent to that name,” advised Kelly. “Contact us through our 800 number and we’ll take immediate action.”
Victims of fraud should call the Western Union Fraud Hotline number at 1-800-448-1492. Everyone should forward any suspicious emails concerning fraud and Western Union to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If your email account has been hacked, the criminals will be busy digging through data stored there, collecting user names and passwords for services that are associated with that email address. Even if you regain access to the hacked account, other urgent steps must be taken to prevent a cascade of hurt. For complete details on how to cope, follow the instructions here.