By – Al Doran, CHRP
I first wrote this piece two years ago this week and at the time this scam was relatively new but this past month a whole rash of “friends” have been almost scammed into falling for this one, which is odd since its certainly not new. It does emphasize the importance of being vigilant even more so in today’s environment of mobile computing, social media, and the tendency to let one’s guard down in our world of 24/7 communications with “friends”. On that note, I have long since turned off the “chat” feature on Facebook, not out of any security concern but because it’s outright annoying. I also fine tune my Facebook settings on a regular basis as those loonies over at Facebook keep changing your settings without telling you.
Beware “the friend” stranded in London, or anyplace out of town!
April 13, 2009
Last week while working on my computer and with Facebook running in the background as usual, I got a beep, the familiar one associated with Facebook chat. I generally ignore them, I do not get a lot, but with over 800 “friends” too many of them can be just “how you doing” and if you are in the middle of an article or report for a client, you do not have time to chat. I am not a fan of any kind of on line chat, even though I have MSN, Yahoo, and of course Facebook. With MSN and Yahoo I almost always have them off so they do not bother me much but seems the chat comes with Facebook but luckily not all that many seem to use it.
But as always, I do check to see who it is and this time it was a professional “friend” one whom I have known well over 20 years and one whom I have played at least a minor role in his career and one whom I am pleased to talk to when we each have time. It was the first time he had ever contacted me via Facebook chat. It was the usual intro, “how you doing Al?” I was fairly busy but this is a guy I have time for but kept my responses brief, so replied, “Doing OK here, how are you?”
Friend, let me call him Phil, says” “not so good”. Now that is odd, so I replied: “sorry to hear that”. Yes, I was being very stingy with my words, but kept working and corresponding. Eventually he said, “I am in London”.
I responded, “oh, that’s nice, the UK or in ON?”
Response said he was in London, UK. Then he said: “yes, not doing so well, I was robbed at gun point last night”. In a bit of shock, I said: “I hope you are OK?” He replied, “Not so good, may need your help.” To which I replied, “How can I help you?” Then Phil responded: “was wondering if you can loan me some money, I lost everything, only have my identity left, no money, no credit cards” Eventually he added he was at a cyber café and soon headed back to his hotel and then to the airport but needed money to get to the airport etc.
Now, maybe somewhat indicating my own character flaws or otherwise, I immediately told him yes, no problem, “…how we going to do this?” His suggestion was to set up a western union account on line and he could use his passport and other id to get the transfer at a western union office. At no time did I even ask him how much he needed. Once I was clear on how to send the money to him, maybe it was my military background or just good common sense from working in our industry for over 40 years but it came time to ask him: “Phil, just to be cautious, as I am sure you will understand, given your own background (he was an internal auditor when I first met him), I asked, “who followed you in your job when we first worked together?”. This should have been a no brainer, as the person who followed him as the internal auditor at our original work place together is a mutual friend.
But he said something along the lines, “gosh Al, I cannot remember that at all, my mind is a blank, I am so stressed after this incident, I cannot recall, but you know me, etc….”
Now small alarm bells had gone off and I kept him chatting, all the same time, trusting he had a temporary memory cramp and I set about with setting up a western union account on line. I kept him chatting and asked other questions, like “who was my boss at our workplace?” My boss was the VP of HR and he worked with him on a regular basis doing audits. But again a similar response “…. I am just wiped out, I cannot recall that at all, it’s been too long and I had such a horrible experience.”
I gave him more chances, since I had an interview with him only a few months ago for an assignment and when I did not get it, recommended they use another good friend and he did hire her, and she did finish the assignment. That was recent. He could not remember it.
He would drop in a few comments about his family and his employer but I knew that since he had access to his (Phil’s) Facebook account that he also had knowledge of his family, his kids in university, his current employer etc.
While still chatting, I figured it was time I employed another bit of technology on my desk top, my Outlook organizer. Thanks to the fact that both of us use Plaxo and in fact LinkedIn, and other handy tools, I had all Phil’s contact info, so I went low tech and called Phil’s cell phone.
Hi Phil, how you doing, …. “Wow Al, good to hear from you….”
“Where you at Phil?”
“Well, Al, I am on a job in Boston this week”.
“So your not in London and did not get robbed last night?”
Phil went on line and changed his Facebook password right away and posted a warning to his friends that someone had hacked his account.
I posted a similar warning to my friends to make sure that they have a good password due to the fact that there are people hacking accounts and asking friends for money.
This guy was smooth, he did not come on strong like a Nigerian barrister get rich quick weasel, and he built on the conversation before asking for the funds and had reasonable ways to avoid answering the “password” question.
This story turned out o.k. but it could have just as easily gone the other way.
We have these new tools on our desk and take them for granted but from time to time we need to stop and think about just how secure our personal information is.
I told Phil, that at least now he knows he has a friend who will give him a loan any time he needs it, LOL. The amount eventually came out as 819 British pounds.