Desperate e-mails that seemed to come from friends and family in need abroad bilked two people out of more than $5,000 in separate cases in the past week, the Jackson County Sheriff's Department reported.
The fraudulent e-mails targeted a woman whose son is a Navy medical corpsman serving with the Marines in Afghanistan and a Central Point man whose friend from Salem is traveling in the United Kingdom, sheriff's department spokeswoman Andrea Carlson said.
Patty James, whose 23-year-old son is stationed in Afghanistan, got an early-morning e-mail on July 23 from his e-mail account saying that he had been mugged while on a short leave in London.The e-mail said the mugger had stolen cash, credit cards, identification and everything in his wallet, leaving him lucky to be alive and with only his passport. Now he needed money to get back to base, the distraught-sounding e-mail continued.
"I was already a worried parent," the 53-year-old said. "In that situation, you would do whatever you needed to for your son."
James, who lives in Sebastopol, Calif., but is visiting her sister in Talent, rushed to help, wiring $2,500 via Western Union at Tark's Market. She then got another e-mail saying the first request failed to account for exchange rates and fees, so she wired another $1,995. Then came a message that her son had missed a flight and needed even more money.
When other family members, including her son's father, who had also received the first e-mail, expressed concerns about the legitimacy of the requests, James realized she likely had been scammed. But she was still wildly worried about her son. She feared that the criminals had perhaps robbed or kidnapped him to get details about contacting her and his identification to claim the money she sent.
The Red Cross, which routinely sends emergency communications between deployed service members and their families, stepped in to help her find her son, who was still on patrol in Afghanistan, and she contacted local, military and British law enforcement.
"These hackers are very sophisticated," she said. "And they might be preying on military families. That's the really despicable part."
The second case, in the Central Point area, hit a man who has a friend traveling in the United Kingdom, Carlson said. On July 23, he got an e-mail from that friend's address asking for help after a robbery in Scotland. The Central Point man wired $670 to help with travel expenses, then got a second e-mail asking for more because fees and the exchange rate left the traveler without enough money.
"He knew that wasn't true, so it really sparked his suspicion," Carlson said.
She said that hackers can easily redirect e-mail so it appears to come from a known sender and are apparently doing that to send these false pleas for help.
The Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, sent out a warning early this month that e-mail and social-networking accounts were being compromised to send out pleas for money. The hackers send a message claiming the account owner is stranded and in immediate need of money after being robbed while traveling. The e-mails often claim the traveler is in London or elsewhere in Britain.
Authorities warn people always to verify where their loved ones are before wiring money. With a transaction number, anyone can pick up wired money from any Western Union location in the world, so tracking the criminals is very difficult.
Reach reporter Anita Burke at 541-776-4485, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.