Back in the day we had postcards, but now it’s common to Instagram your vacation pictures or email your loved ones back home. But imagine all your friends, family members and email contacts receive a desperate plea from your email address begging them to transfer money to help you after all your belongings have been stolen while on vacation in Valencia, Spain. Everyone wants to help get you back home to Canada. The only problem? You’re peacefully lounging in your living room in Flin Flon.
Your email was hacked.
How this scam works
Step One: The Fake Email
The scammers hack into your email account and send out a desperate, pleading note to your email contacts. A typical email might read along the lines of this:
Dear So and So,
I don’t know if you were aware but I’ve been in Valencia on vacation, although it’s turned into a nightmare. Right now I’m stuck at the Canadian embassy in Spain because all of my luggage, including my passport and wallet, has been stolen.
Luckily I’ve sorted out my passport with the embassy but I just want to be on the next flight out of here. I need to settle up with the hotel and get a new plane ticket, but I’ve spoken with my bank and I won’t be able to access my funds for a couple days. I was wondering if I could ask you to lend me some quick funds and as soon as I return I can pay you back…
Step Two: The Defrauding of Friends and Family
Your friends and family receive this email and are undoubtedly concerned. Some wire the money. Even if only three of all your email contacts send $800, the fraudsters have stolen $2,400.
Step Three: The Ripple Effect
If only this scam ended there.
Unfortunately, your contacts may also be at risk of being hacked. The scammers sometimes can hack into your friends’ email and then turn around and send another plea email out to all of their email contacts. The cycle continues and the fraud chain spirals.
How to Prevent the Vacation Scam
The best defense against your email getting hacked is ensuring you have a unique password for your account that you keep well-protected. You’re more at risk when using public computers while traveling, so remember to log out of email and other applications too.
When it comes to the vacation scam, you can do your part by spreading the word to help others recognize this scam to avoid being defrauded of their money while thinking they’re helping a friend in need. Here are a few tips:
- If you receive an email asking for money to help a friend or family member who is travelling, double check by calling or contacting them some other way other than email,to make sure they’re not safe at home.
- Don’t wire money to someone under uncertain conditions. After the funds have been wired it is almost impossible to recover or trace that money.
- If you think your friend or family member’s email has been hacked, let them know so that they can inform their contacts and warn them not to send money.
How about a free vacation?
Of course, the email scam above isn’t the only way fraudsters try to trick you into parting with your money. There are plenty of “free vacation” scams and other ways that criminals try to steal from you:
If you receive a call or email from an unknown source informing you that you've won a contest you don’t remember entering, or asking to update your account, that’s a red flag. Check out the many variations on the vacation scam at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
If you do you have vacation plans, just remember that free Wi-Fi available at resorts, airports or coffee shops could be used by criminals to access to your personal information – check out our article on the Wi-Fi hotspot scam.