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The "Stranded Traveller" Scam

You receive an email from someone you know claiming that they are stranded in a foreign country because of a robbery and need you to wire them money to help them get back home.

In fact, their email account has been hacked, and this message has been sent to everyone in their address book. The hackers may also redirect email sent to the victim's account or wipe the victim's address book so that they cannot tell everyone that the original email was a hoax.

There are two reasons why this spam is tricky to detect:

  1. Because the email really came from the victim's account, looking at the headers will show nothing untoward, and it may also be signed with their normal signature.
  2. While there are other spams which appeal to compassion (e.g. one form of the advance fee fraud "Nigerian scam" involves a dying person wanting your help to leave their fortune to charity), in this case it is a friend claiming to need your help rather than some random stranger.

Nonetheless there are a few warning signs.

  • The language of the email may not sound like your friend, and there will not be any personal touches in the message.
  • If you are not close to them, is it likely that they would be asking you for help in this situation?
  • If you are close to them, is it likely that they would have gone abroad without telling you?

If in doubt, phone or text your friend or contact them via another email address.

Useful Links

  • discusses a similar scam which may be more targeted and involve a phone call rather than email, and suggests either contacting a close relative of the alleged victim or asking a question which only they would be able to answer.
  • Hoax Slayer has an example of this type of scam email. Note the poor English, the eccentric capitalisation, and the address as "Dear Friend" rather than by name.