Windsor

Police warn of email scam

Police have issued a warning about an increasingly common email scam in which fraudsters hijack email accounts to solicit money from potential victims.

Police have issued a warning about an increasingly common email scam in which fraudsters hijack email accounts to solicit money from potential victims.

There has been a marked increase in the number of complaints about the "Emergency Scam," as it's called, since the end of October, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre (CAFC), an agency managed by the Ontario Provincial Police, the RCMP and the Competition Bureau Canada.

The scam has become commonplace in Essex County, Ont., where complaints to one police department have become so numerous — about six a week — that "it's really difficult to keep track of them all," said Const. Kevin O'Neil of the Leamington Police Service.

'I misplaced my wallet'

One such complaint came from Mariano Klimowicz, president of the Windsor West NDP.

On Friday, hundreds of people in Klimowicz's email address book received an email, claiming to be from him, saying he was stranded in England and needed a $3,500 loan to help pay his hotel bill.

"I left for an urgent trip to the UK and i am stocked [sic] now because i misplaced my wallet on my way back to the Hotel where i lodged," the email stated. "The Hotel has my travel document till I'm able to make payments. I will appreciate whatever you can afford to loan me even if you are not able to come up with everything."

The email then provides a London address to be used for wiring money via Western Union.

The email is peppered with spelling and grammatical mistakes, raising the suspicions of many of Klimowicz's friends.

"I've gotten one phone call after another since seven this morning," said Klimowicz on Friday from Windsor. "I think I'm up to 41 calls from friends who are very concerned."

Another Windsorite, store owner Sally Taylor, had her email account hacked into by scammers using a similar scheme on Dec. 11.

Scam tied to virus

The scam is the work of con artists who infect computers with a particular virus, said Cpl. Louis Robertson of the CAFC.

Computer owners unwittingly download the virus, which "just sits there, and once in a while somebody will receive an email asking to provide money," said Robertson.

Other variations of the scam involve themes of hospitalization or imprisonment, according to the OPP. It strongly suggests that "anyone receiving a request for money takes measures to verify the requestor's identity and the veracity of their story," according to a press release. The scam has proved increasingly successful.

Between January and October 2009, there were 88 successful pleas for money amounting to $317,732.63, more than twice the amount scammed in all of 2008, according to the CAFC.

As of October, the CAFC received reports of 278 failed attempts in 2009, 158 more than in all of 2008.

The CAFC estimates the reports reflect just five per cent of the actual number of cases.