My adventure with an Internet scam artist

 - 
12/17/2010

When I arrived at work this morning, I found this email awaiting me in my in-box:

Hi
Apologies for having to reach out to you like this, but I made a quick trip to  London,United Kingdom and had my bag stolen from me with my passport and credit cards in it. The  embassy is willing to help by letting me fly without my passport, I just have to pay for a ticket  and settle Hotel bills. Unfortunately for me, I can't have access to funds without my credit  card, I've made contact with my bank but they need more time to come up with a new one. I was  thinking of asking you to lend me some quick funds that I can give back as soon as I get in. I  really need to be on the next available flight.

I can forward you details on how you can get the funds to me.

I await your response.

Thanks

Judith Owens

Now I have absolutely no idea who Judith Owens is, and I suspected that this was some kind of a scam. But just in case, I checked our editorial database. Nope. No Judith Owens there. I looked at her email address: owensleep@ymail.com. Hmmm. I called up my web browser (Safari) and typed in www.owensleep.com and then www.owensleep.org. Again, nothing. I was grasping at straws, but I wondered if this person could somehow be associated, legally or illegally, with a sleep provider. Of course this is a scam, I said to myself. No one sends a total stranger an email, asking for a large amount of money. I was a little surprised that this email did not go directly into my junk mail with all those ridiculous offers for "male enhancements" and Russian mail order brides. Somehow it slipped through. Normally, at this point, I would have deleted the email and moved on to something productive. But instead I emailed Judith back. How far would this person go? I wondered.

Judith,
OMG. This is terrible. How much money do you need and where do I send it.

She's never going to write back, I thought, and started going through my to-do list for the day. A few minutes latter, my email tinged. I looked up. It was Judith!

Thanks. Please I need about $1000. Please send it via western union transfer, it is the fastest way I can receive the funds as I hope to fly out tonight. See details for transfer
Receiver: Judith Owens
City: London
Country: United Kingdom

Please send me the western union mtcn number so I can receive funds here. Thanks

Judith Owens is probably some guy with a beard and bad breath, I thought. I decided to spice things up a little and wrote:

Judith,

I got it. Would it be okay if I sent $1500 instead of $1000, just so you'll
have some spending money on the trip home? Let me know because I'll have to
clear that with my wife first?

Keep a stiff upper lip! Help is on the way!

Mike

I was a bit pleased with myself. The "stiff upper lift" line sounded kind of British, which was appropriate when corresponding with someone desperately trying to leave England and return to the United States.  Judith emailed back:

Go ahead.

Go a-freaking-head? Is that it? How boring. I replied:

Great. Do you have instructions on how to use Western Union. I've never used
it before. What do I do?

She wrote:
Visit www.westernunion.com to fine the nearest WU agent.

I typed in the web address.  It worked. Oh, you clever, clever crook. I snickered, and thought: I wonder what you'll have to say about this:

Judith

Bad news. My wife said I cannot send you the money. She said it's Christmas
and that we need that money to buy our kids and family presents. What should
I do? I really want to help you!

Mike

To this, Judith wrote:

Please I will refund as soon as I get home.

I could sense pleading in her response.

My final email:

Sorry. I can't do it. My wife would kill me. Good luck!

That was it. Judith did not send another email.

I know that this 20 minute exchange with Judith was not the most productive use of my work day.  But even now, as I'm about to go home for the weekend,  I can't help but wonder: Judith, who are you?

Mike Moran

Comments

Mike - LOVED your blog on the spam, and how you carried on a discussion with the crook! How funny! Reminds me of a Seinfeld episode! BTW, when you're not goofing off, I love your other articles too - always insightful.

Someone at my work got this exact, and I do mean exact, email from a personal business contact's email address. It's likely a virus has allowed this criminal to access a victim's email and send the scam request from thier email. Fortunatley this one is a blatant and rather incompentent attempt.

I suppose the con artist develops a relationship with their victim and convinces them to send money to the fraudster. The requests for money can be a one-time event, or repeated over an extended period of time.