Beware of friends in need

Beware of friends in need. Or at least emails purported to be from friends in need. I got the following email this morning (the subject line was “Horrible Situation” followed by about 27 exclamation points):

I’m writing this with tears in my eyes, I and my family came down here to Wales,United Kingdom for a short vacation unfortunately we were mugged at the park of the hotel where we stayed,all cash,credit card and mobile phone were stolen off us but luckily for us we still have our passports with us.

We’ve been to the embassy and the Police here but they’re not helping issues at all and our flight leaves any moment from today but we’re having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won’t let us leave until we settle the bills,i’m freaked out at the moment.

The desperate plea–well, implicit plea–for financial help was signed with the name and address of a good friend of mine, also a writer. Besides being poorly written (well, okay, she could have been pretty shook up), I knew it was extremely unlikely she and her family would have been in Wales.

Not only that, I noticed that although her email address looked correct at first glance, there was an extra letter in her name. Hard to see because the type was small and the letter was a skinny little “l.”

I fired off a message to her using the address I had on file, and found out, sure enough, her email had been hacked. In fact–no surprise here–a number of her friends and acquaintances had received the same frantic note.

It’s highly unlikely anyone fell for the bogus missive, but it serves as a great reminder that there’s lots of electronic thieves out there. And, similar to the proofreading we writers constantly do, that it pays to double- and triple-check and requests for money and personal info we might receive.

Now, please send me your name and social security number so I can confirm you’ve read this.

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