Lost Luggage in London Phishing Travel Scam
A stolen bag. Lost cash. A missing passport.
It had all the hallmarks of a trip from hell. And the e-mail, which ostensibly came from a reader I had corresponded with back in 2008, seemed equally genuine. "I really don't mean to inconvenience you right now," he wrote. But he was stuck in
Only it wasn't real.
As it turns out, the "Lost Luggage in
"When it comes to travelers, cybercrime and scamming opportunities abound," said
You don't even have to travel to get taken. The "lost luggage" con, for example, preys on people who know others who travel often. I was in my office when I received the fraudulent appeal.
Online crimes are a growing problem. Americans lost more than half a billion dollars from fraud perpetrated through the Internet last year, up from
Apparently, so are the people we know.
Sands forwarded the message to the ICCC Web site (http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx), which records scams and warns others about them. "I feel one good deed deserves another," he said.
Security experts refer to the kind of e-mail Sands received as "spear phishing," because it's customized to a group of users or a single user, and it's that precision that renders it so dangerous. For a moment, at least, he believed that his friend was in trouble, just as I thought that one of my readers had lost his luggage and needed a hand.
Phishing scams are not the only traps that await travelers. They're also vulnerable to losing their passwords to keystroke-logging software, which records each character typed on a computer in a public place, such as a hotel business center or an Internet cafe, and transmits it to a cybercriminal.
Travelers don't even have to use an infected computer to lose their personal information. An unsecured wireless network at an airport or resort can allow hackers not only to sit back and collect personal data, passwords and e-mails, but also to implant malicious software on your computer, where it can cause trouble long after your trip is over, according to experts.
How do you keep your data safe on the road? "View with suspicion any e-mail or other electronic message with requests for personal identification, financial information, user names or passwords," said
Also, stay away from unsecured computers in public areas, and if you log on to a public wireless network, don't conduct any secure transactions, such as checking your credit card or bank account balance, said
You can take all these precautions but still be in danger, cautions
And what about the spear phishers? Since people who don't speak English as a first language commit many of these crimes, bad grammar is the biggest clue. If you notice any awkward language or phrasing, it should set off alarms. Simply verifying that the person it appears you have received the message from is out of the country -- by phoning or e-mailing him or her at a secondary address or through a social networking site -- is enough to get to the bottom of the scam.
I concluded that I was being targeted after running an Internet search for the first sentence of the e-mail, which showed that the same message had been sent to dozens, perhaps hundreds, of others. After that, the next step was easy.
I hit "delete."
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