HARVARD -- A Brown Road resident called police June 16, to report an email scam that cost her $2,000.
According to information the woman gave police, the email came from a friend, or so she thought.
Using her friend's email, someone posing as her friend claimed to be vacationing in Spain and needed help, fast.
The emailer said she and her husband -- a couple the Harvard woman knows well -- were mugged and robbed at gunpoint while staying at a Madrid hotel and that all their cash, credit cards and cellphones were stolen.
"We're stuck in Madrid on vacation," the email reads, in part. The person went on to say the vacation had turned into a "nightmare" and asked for help from the woman, who went to her bank, got $2,000, and wired the money to the address provided, via Western Union, as requested.
The request was pretty specific, Sgt. John Coates said. The poseur asked for $1,850. When the woman got home after sending the money, she emailed her friend, confirming she had done so.
The person on the other end promptly replied that the money had been received but it wasn't enough because the "exchange rate was too low." The woman was asked to send another $1,450. She did not.
Fortunately, she started to smell a rat at this point and asked her friend to call her.
She received no reply.
A red flag went up at that point, Sgt. Coates said. The woman called her friend and quickly learned the email was fake and that she'd
When her friend --- whose email had been hijacked by the thief -- contacted Verizon to report it, she learned that 30 other customers had also called to report similar incidents. Apparently, none of them involved an actual money transaction, however.
"So far, it looks like the Harvard woman is the only victim," Sgt. Coates said.
Police followed up with authorities in Spain, but there was no trace of the thieves who hacked into all those computer email accounts. Verizon is investigating.
But the Harvard woman's money is gone. It may be she can recover some of it through insurance, but that was not clear.
Having picked up the money at the designated location, the thieves vanished.
It is a sad but cautionary tale.
Sgt. Coates said people should be very cautious about email transactions involving money. If the request purports to be from a family member or friend, as the woman thought in this case, the first thing to do is try to contact that person directly.
Even if a long-distance tale of woe seems plausible and the email address is familiar, don't send money if you can't confirm it is, in fact, your friend, on the other end. In short, you need to hear their voice to know for sure.
Besides the mode of delivery, which makes it quick and easy to grab the money and run, another telltale sign that an email may be bogus is that the English seems a bit "off," as if written by someone for whom English is not the first language.
The victim here noticed that, Sgt. Coates said, but figured her friend was upset by what had happened and besides, email messages don't always follow grammatical rules.
Still, it's a warning sign and shouldn't be ignored, he said.