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by Sid Kirchheimer, AARP Bulletin, June 30, 2008
The e-mails are startling. In some of them, the “hit man” claims your relatives put out a contract on your life. In others, he says he was hired by your co-workers to kill you. In still others, he explains that “one of your friends” paid for his services.
These grisly hit man e-mails do have one thing in common: They are a hoax aimed at “hitting” your bank account. In each version, the sender says that for a price, he will spare your life … or he’ll sell you an audiotape that reveals who your “enemy” is. All you need to do is provide your bank account number, or reply to get further instructions.
The hit man extortion scheme was first reported by the FBI in December 2006 and quickly ruled a hoax after flooding thousands of e-mail accounts across the country. It died down in 2007 but has re-emerged with a vengeance in recent months.
The latest wave of hit man e-mails has generated about 1,000 complaints to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), says FBI spokesman Paul Bresson.
The scammers—most likely based outside the , judging from the spelling and grammatical errors riddling their e-mails, says Bresson—buy e-mail addresses in bulk and send their generic threats to thousands of accounts at a time.
The aim is to get a response from you. Even if your reply says that you intend to notify authorities about the threat, the scammers at least know they have reached a live account. The FBI says they could then contact you again, intensifying their scare tactics by divulging more of your personal information, such as your employer or home address, which has been gleaned from your response or purchased from personal information brokers.
“The important thing to keep in mind here is not so much the individual scam, but the awareness of variations of scams designed to make the recipient take action that will usually result in the loss of money,” says Bresson. “Providing any personal information in response to an unsolicited e-mail can compromise your identity and open you to identity theft.”
Never reply to a hit man. Instead, notify the IC3 at www.ic3.gov.
For more information on preventing e-mail or other information-seeking scams, visit www.lookstoogoodtobetrue.com, a site run by the FBI with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and other business partners.
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