Who knew? I certainly wouldn’t have, had I not received those e-mails. The "Late Engr. Juriaan Kugger” and the "Late Engr. Phillip Randall Saito” both named me as beneficiaries in their wills. And, Dr. Sammuel Boon-Mee was so kind as to inform me about winning $1 million in an Internet lottery. This is being held for me in a bank in Thailand. In 21 e-mails gathered during the course of a recent business week, I was a few clicks away from potentially claiming about $282 million. All they needed were my bank details, a copy of my identification and the name of the nearest airport. Phishing schemes — fraudulent e-mails attempting to get personal information as a doorstep to identity theft or to gain access to a victim’s bank account — have been growing in frequency and sophistication in recent years, said Bob Manista, president of the Better Business Bureau’s central Oklahoma office. "Some can be pretty clumsy, but others are virtually identical to the kind of business e-mails that one might legitimately see as part of your daily computer use,” he said. I almost fell for one of those legitimate-looking e-mails a few years ago. The sender claimed to be from my local bank and everything looked fine except a portion of the e-mail address seemed odd. They needed to verify some of my information. I had an uneasy feeling. So I decided to call my bank first. They assured me, as I should have known, that they would never contact me by e-mail. I felt ashamed for even considering it, but learned the other day I’m in good company. In 2009, the head of one of the United State’s domestic agencies was giving a speech in San Francisco. He shared that someone he knew had "received an e-mail purporting to be from his bank.” The e-mail looked legitimate, and like the one I received, was just asking him to verify some information. He started to respond, then gave it a little more thought and decided not to answer the e-mail. He admitted "he barely caught himself in time.” "He definitely should have known better,” the agency head said. "I can say this with certainty, because it was me.” That was Robert S. Mueller III, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Scams cause damage that can last for yearsBefore his 19th birthday, Frank W. Abagnale had cashed millions of dollars from fraudulent checks in the guise of a Pan Am pilot, doctor and prosecutor. The FBI eventually caught him, and then hired him. In February, Abagnale celebrated 36 years as a consultant in the areas of fraud and white collar crimes. In that time, he has been associated with the FBI and has taught at the FBI Academy and the FBI’s field offices across the country. He specializes in securing documents from being counterfeited or replicated. Abagnale, who lives in Tulsa, works with numerous printing companies around the world to secure everything from currency, credit cards, birth certificates, car titles, pharmaceuticals, luxury items and doctors’ prescription pads. He said e-mail scams are a problem and a nuisance and added that people often give away information and respond to these e-mails. "That is why in my opinion it is extremely important that the media, financial institutions, government agencies and law enforcement educate the public about these scams,” he said. Abagnale emphasized that once a person gives away their information, and it is misused for fraud or criminal activity, it can take literally years to repair. On average, people will spend 175 man hours and more than $1,000 repairing their credit, Abagnale said.
Just looking out for meIn addition to bountiful opportunities, the 21 e-mails I received offered advice. In one e-mail, a man claiming to be in London suggested I get in touch with him and not communicate with those who were working an "elaborate global scam.” A scam? At least I could trust him, or not. "I can’t stress this enough, no lending institution, bank, or other authority would ever ask for this information in an unsecure venue like an e-mail,” Manista said. "I don’t care what the message says or what reasons it gives. If you’re concerned about the message, call whatever institution it is and ask questions. "The con men are very good at creating panic, but don’t lose your head.” Or your money.