A Disturbing Travel E-Mail Scam and the Western Union Problem

There’s probably not a week that goes by that you don’t find at least one e-mail scam in your inbox.  Most play on the desire to win the lottery, greed, or a less-than-selfless desire to help strangers out.  The most famous of these are the classic Nigerian e-mail scams. You know the drill – some prince/king/billionaire/princess has died or needs your help and has a ton of money waiting for you. All that’s needed are your contact details/bank account details/ or a small down-payment to help get the money out. These mostly prey on the profoundly gullible, technologically un-savvy, or elderly and believe it or not, they’ve actually been the subject of a fairly significant amount of academic research.  Some of that research has suggested that these scammers make their e-mail approaches intentionally cliche (eg: ever wonder why they ALL supposedly come from Nigeria?) because it automatically weeds out the more skeptical or technologically savvy recipients.  In short, they’re perverse and disgusting but ultimately somewhat harmless to the vast majority of internet users.

The e-mail I woke up to this morning, on the other hand, was vastly different. It’s cold, it’s calculating, it’s brutally exploitative, it’s well researched, and it had just enough truth to it that even I, as a hardened internet veteran, sent a just-in-case Facebook message to ensure all was ok. It’s a variation on the “Grandparent Scam” but with a travel twist.