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25.03.2009 Social News

Scammed - a day to forget!

By bruceswanderings

Terrible night last night – really bad sciatica. By morning I can barely lift my head, let alone get out of bed and go to work. Decide to stay at home (the only reason for going into the office would be to see if any more school census returns have arrived) and rest. Spend a very slow morning but do manage to get two important bits of work done. One is a summary for Claude of all the visits I have made to Tronc Commun schools this term. The other is a translation of a financial bid to Kigali for the District (they want to make a statistical database for the District to get more accurate data for planning).

By lunchtime, thanks to a load of diclofenac tablets and endless cups of tea, I'm beginning to feel more mobile. I stumble upon how to make “thê africain” – all you need to do is boil up a mixture of milk and a shake of ginger, then add it to a teabag. It's not the real thing, but it's a passable imitation, especially with a spoonful of sugar in it.

Early in the afternoon there's a massive storm. Within two minutes the temperature drops, and the wind is so strong that even coming through the air holes in our walls it is fierce enough to blow over a birthday card on the far side of the room. The rain comes down like a curtain and all visibility ends under a white fog of torrential water. It comes under the French windows in the lounge, and gallons of water surge across the floor before I can try to plug the gap with a cloth. I spend five minutes sweeping water back under the door. Fortunately we've got used to this and we never leave anything near the door which would be ruined if it got wet.

Now the phone rings. Tom tells me that someone appears to have hijacked my email account and sent messages to everybody in my entire email address books (well over 200 people) that I am stuck in Accra (Ghana) and in need of £1800 urgently to get me out of trouble. The money needs to be wired to some “friendly Ghanaian” who, out of pure altruism, will make his bank account available to help me. Yeah, right! This is a very clever variation on the old West African money scam which still manages to hook people time after time. These scammers are driving around in BMWs thanks to the gullibility of people like my friends and relatives.

Fortunately Tom knows he left me at the flat, in bed, at eight this morning so there's no way I can be stuck in Ghana. Stuck in Gitarama, maybe, but certainly not in Ghana. However, the email is really convincing, and I know that if I were a parent of a gap-year teenager who I knew might be in Ghana, I would be completely taken in. It's not until you read the message in some detail that you see things in the text which are not the English that an English person uses. And, of course, if you get one of these messages your first reaction is the emotional one of shock and your desire to help a friend in need. It really is very clever.

OK, so what's to do? The scammer has hijacked my email account and I can't simply go on line and tell everyone to forget it. Tom and Christi come to the rescue. Tom sends an email to the scammer, pretending to be taken in, and asks the scammer what account to send the money to. Within seconds the scammer has replied, giving his real name. We debate about calling the Ghanaian police but decide that they almost certainly won't take any action because no crime has been committed in their country. For all we know, they might be in on the scam anyway. We contact Yahoo and tell them what's happened, giving them the details of the scammer. We have one stroke of luck in that the scammer is in a hurry and has slightly mis-spelt my email address, so it looks as if we can still use the “nuttyuptons” address. Tom goes back into my email account and we change the password, and eventually we find we can re-access the email account, but every name in my address books has been removed by the scammer. Never mind, we can eventually recreate the address book.

But the biggest problem is whether I can do anything to stop people worrying about me and sending money to this bastard in Accra. Within seconds I get a phone call from Geert in Holland asking me if I'm OK; he's one of the few people outside Rwanda to know my local phone number. So the problem is acute. Charlotte rings me from Kigali to say that every VSO has had the scam message, and we agree that she will email everyone on the VSO list and tell them it's a scam. But what I'm much more worried about is whether friends or relatives back in England will be taken in. I'm hoping they will check with Teresa before doing anything.

I ring Teresa; she's inundated with worried friends asking whether I really am in trouble. We agree that she will try to contact by email as many of our contacts as we can remember and reassure them.

By now its late afternoon and we're getting worn out with all the trouble of trying to undo the damage this idiot is causing.

In conclusion: the scam works like this: you get what appears to be an official email from Yahoo asking you to reconfirm your email account with them or you will lose it. This is the text of the email:

Yahoo! Warning!!! Verify Your Account Now To Avoid It Closed (YV2G99MAQ)

Sunday, March 8, 2009 11:39 AM
"Yahoo! Member Services"
Add sender to Contacts
Dear Account User,
This Email is from Yahoo Account Services and we are sending it to every Yahoo Email User Accounts Owner for safety. we are having congestions due to the anonymous Registration of Yahoo Accounts so we are shutting down some Yahoo Accounts and Your Account was among those to be deleted.We are sending you this email to so that you can verify this Account.If you are still interested please confirm Your Account by filling the space below.Your Username,Password,Date of Birth and your Country information would be needed to verify Your Account.

Due to the congestion in all Yahoo users and removal of all used Yahoo Accounts, Yahoo would be shutting down some Yahoo Accounts, You will have to confirm your E-mail by filling out your Login Information below after clicking the reply button, or your Account will be suspended within 48 hours for security reasons.

* Yahoo ID: .......................
* Password: ......................
* Date of Birth: ..................
* Country Or Territory: ........
After following the instructions in the sheet, Your Account will not be interrupted and will continue as normal. Thanks for your attention to this request. We apologize for any inconveniences.

Warning!!! Account owner that refuses to update his/her Account after two weeks of receiving this warning will lose his or her Account Permanently.

Customer Care
Yahoo! Mail Service.
It's targeted at people who they know are working or travelling abroad and they know full well that we all rely on email for contacts home. Therefore people won't want to risk their email being severed and they tend to send the information. Within minutes their account has been hit and their address book stolen.

It's been a day I want to forget. Well, you can't win them all!