Imagine sitting at one’s desk at work, and receiving the following email.
Supposedly from one’s supervisor, with the word TASK appears in the subject line. It reads: “I am in a conference meeting right now, I’d like you to spare me some moment, which you need to carry out an urgent task for me Asap..let me have your personal cell # number to text you on what to do.”
Any red flags? Like “how does my boss not know my ‘personal cell # number,’” maybe? And maybe the grammar leaves a bit to be desired (“spare me some moment”) as well.
According to Patrol Capt. Brent McCain of the Paragould Police Department, it’s the lead-in to a scam.
“The first thing you should do is to confirm it’s from your boss,” he said.
An easy way to confirm the origin of the email is to move the computer’s mouse to the “From” block and hover over it (PC) or right-click (Mac) to see what it actually is. In the above email, the actual address, “email@example.com” was nothing similar to the known email address of the supposed sender. In addition, the incorrect spelling of “executive” – with two “i’s” – can suggest less-than-native fluency in English, especially when combined with the poor grammar demonstrated by “spare me some moment.”
At that point, McCain said, the recipient should delete the email and then empty the trash folder of the email program that received the email.
“It could contain a virus,” he warned, “a Trojan Horse or ransomware. But if you delete it and then empty the trash, the threat is gone for good.”
According to us.norton.com, a Trojan Horse is a type of malicious code or software that looks legitimate but can take control of a computer. It is designed to damage, disrupt, steal, or in general inflict some other harmful action on the computer’s data or network.
According to www.techno pedia.com, ransomware is a program that infects, locks or takes control of a system and demands ransom to undo it. Ransomware attacks and infects a computer with the intention of extorting money from its owner.
Assuming the scam target does not immediately recognize the email as coming from a spurious address, and provides the requested cell number, s/he may then receive a text along the following lines from an unrecognized phone number: “I want you to carry out a specific task for me right now, will you be able to do that for me now??”
At this point, the target of the scam might realize that his or her supervisor would be more likely to have come straight to the point, if not in the email itself then in the just-received text. But if not, and upon the target’s replying in the affirmative, s/he may receive a followup text similar to the following: “How fast can you get some google play gift cards from any nearby store? They need to be sent out soon. I’m occupied at the moment, but I will look out for your reply.”
According to information from the website of the American Association of Retired Persons, gift cards have become a popular payment mechanism among scam artists. Masquerading as IRS agents, tech-support personnel or the attorney for a supposedly jailed grandchild – or one’s supervisor – scammers try to pressure or trick (as in the above real-world situation) their targets into buying gift cards for iTunes, Google Play, Best Buy and other popular retailers, and either ask or order them to provide the code numbers, or PINs, on the back of the cards so they can be redeemed.
At that point, McCain said, the target should block the number.
“It could be a ‘spoof’ number,” McCain said. Spoof numbers, he said, can be created by the use of a $4 phone app that can display any number the scammer desires, real or fictitious. “And they can just get a ‘burner’ [i.e. disposable] phone to do it,” he said. “They won’t use their own phones to spoof.”
Spoofing in Arkansas is a Class D felony, punishable by up to six years in the Arkansas Department of Corrections, a fine of up to $10,000 or both. However, McCain warned, catching the culprits is difficult since many are operating in foreign countries.
“It can be done,” he said, “but it’s hard. There are groups of them, international scam artists, that do this for a living.”