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My friend's GMail account was recently hacked and the perpetrator sent out one of those classic "help I was mugged, I need money" style e-mails. (Edit: I know it's legit; my friend called me to tell me she'd been hacked.)

I figured this would be a fun experiment. This is perhaps more suited for a forum, but I have the most faith in this community.

The text is below. I'd appreciate suggestions on the best way to catch this person or coax them into providing more information for me to track them.

Update: The address given appears to be the Hilton at the Madrid airport. Anyone know who I can contact?

Edit: To clarify -- Account recovery is ongoing, but if he's going to keep her account, I figured I might try to catch him.

The perp's first message:

Hello, How are you faring? I hope my email finds you in good condition. I'm really sorry for this emergency and for not informing you about my urgent trip to Maldrid Spain but I just have to let you you my present predicament. Though everything was fine until I was attacked on my way to the hotel. I wasn't hurt but I lost my money, bank cards, mobile phone and my bag in the course of this attack. I have immediately contacted my bank in other to block my cards and also made a report at the nearest police station.

Meanwhile, I have also thought it expedient for me to confide this in you and I will be glad to have it confidential between us. I'm physically ok and fine but I'm urgently in need of some money to complete my major aim of being here and to balance my bills till my departure next weekend. Can you please lend me a sum of 2500 euros or any amount you can afford to lend out? I will refund you even with interest upon my arrival back home.

Kindly let me know if you would be able to help me out with the money or any amount you can afford, I can then forward you the details require for a wire transfer via the western union money transfer service. I don't yet have a local phone (still gathering my bearings and such), so email is probably the best form of contact for now.

I will expect your response soon.

My response:

Hi [Friend's Name],

I'm so sorry that you've run into financial trouble! I hope the police help you find your attacker. The world can be scary when traveling abroad.

I think I might be able to lend you the 2500 Euro worth, as long as it's temporary. No need for interest.

What should I do as a next step?

Hope you're able to get a phone set up soon. Either way, good luck and please let me know how I can help! -- [My Name]

Their Response:

Hello [My Name],

Thank you for the concern and help, I sent the message to you because I believe I can confide in you and make this personal till I get back to my feet. I will so much appreciate it if you are able to lend me the sum of money needed. I will refund you soon as I get back home.

I was able to find out how you can transfer money to me Via Western union Money Transfer because I put a temporary stop on my Accounts, all I need is my passport to receive the money here in Spain. There is a western union here in the airport.

You will need the details below at western union to make the money transfer :

Name : [Friends Name] Address: Avenida de la Hispanidad, s/n, 28042 Madrid, Spain

As soon as you're able to complete the transfer, Please email me with the necessary details to receive the money and also let me know how you want the money refunded to you so I can make the arrangements to get it to you as soon as I get back home. Please Write back Soon.

Thanks

Next steps?

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This isn't related to this BBC story by any chance is it? –  user2213 Oct 28 '11 at 13:16
    
Nope; it (unfortunately) is a separate issue that is currently happening to a friend of mine. Thank you for the link, though! –  SeanKilleen Oct 28 '11 at 16:41
    
All you can do is decide how much of your time you want to waste. Sadly, this is the state of things. Your local police won't care. he hacker is probably in another country (may or may not be Spain). Their local police will care even less, if you could even find them (and communicate - language barrier) they won't have evidence or resources to act. Western Union will tell you to talk to your Government (seriously). They won't arrange a sting operation and they wouldn't know where the hacker would actually show up to collect the money. You can string him along for a while, he won't mind. –  Rob P. Nov 23 '12 at 15:31
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5 Answers

First of all, did you somehow manage to check it with your friend if his account really did get hacked into (through another email, IM, mobile, whatever)? I guess you did, but still, there is a small chance that he might indeed be in trouble.

Secondly, while you're waiting trying to figure out a way to catch this guy, some other friends of your friend might not be aware of the scam and might fall for it. So, to minimize the damage I think your top priority at the moment should be recovering your friends account ASAP and not trying to catch the bad guy.. I also think that if he is smart enough, your chances of catching him are probably very slim which means valuable time will be wasted and other people might get affected by the scam.

Once you have the account back, you might be able to check the "Last account activity" in the bottom right corner of his gmail account and get his potential IP (but if he is using something like Tor, and he probably is, that is also useless) if he didn't erase the stats and disabled that feature.

Also, report it to the police, and contact the Western Union with the account details that this guy provided in the email.

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I should have mentioned that I was alerted to this by a phone call from the friend alerting that she'd been hacked. I'll edit to take care of that soon. Also, account recovery is ongoing and alerts have been sent out to all her contacts. Thanks for the insight! –  SeanKilleen Oct 28 '11 at 11:43
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@pootzko - You can tell just by the tone of the email, that its a scam, somebody who actually was for $2,500 wouldn't be so formal. I would not advise the author try to "catch the person" its simply not worth the risk. If they are trying to have you send money to [Insert European Country Here] then contact Interpol. If a person has access to a computer and was able to cancel their cards, then they can simply call you, obvious scam is obvious. I worry for you pootzko for even thinking this was real. –  Ramhound Oct 28 '11 at 12:46
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Oh, crap! I already sent the $2,500! Scammed again! ;) –  rox0r Oct 28 '11 at 18:32
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Forget about it, just report to police (local and in Spain) and let them deal with it.

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Agreed. You have no idea who these people are, and it is likely several of them. They may be violent and they may operate in your area in addition to Spain. It seems like you will be safe as long as a single hacker is far away, but what if his associates operate within striking distance. Don't expose yourself to more risk without at least consulting the relevant authorities. –  this.josh Oct 28 '11 at 23:06
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For fun, to increase of risk since they will be making a trip to the Western Union, tell him you made the transfer, but only send like $5.

At least it will be fraud if the local authorities catch him/her.

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You can get their IP via the email headers. Generally speaking, email scammers are at the lowest of the intellect chain and won't be concerned with hiding their anonymity. If they want money, see which account they want you to send it to. If it's Paypal, Western Union, etc. let them know the details about the account and the situation.

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This does not really answer the author's questions. –  Ramhound Jun 1 '12 at 19:35
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Not necessarily. Most IP headers in free e-mail providers have the MTA IP address, not the clients. –  DKNUCKLES Jun 1 '12 at 20:39
    
Even if the IP is of the client and not the MTA, you can't guarente any reliable information from it without a court warrant. And due to issues mentioned earlier with international law this is unlikely. It is more costly to perform a joint operation than its worth on cases this small. –  Chris Frazier Nov 23 '12 at 20:18
    
@DKNUCKLES My experience is rather, that most webmailers include the IP of the web user agent in the headers. gmail, for example, writes Received: by [some IP] with HTTP; [date] in the headers (interestingly, not using the X-Received header as everyone else does) –  Jonas Wielicki Feb 23 at 9:29
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A few approaches:

  • Follow the money - this is what the police would do. You make a Western Union transfer, then capture him when he comes to get the money. This will require co-operation from Western Union (which they would only do for the actual police) and a fast response.

  • Hack his computer - in your emails entice him to visit a web site you control, which you have loaded with malware. Once you have malware on his computer, figure out where he is, and go there to capture him. If you're a good hacker you can do this single handed - but it is illegal.

  • Trick him - don't agree to Western Union and go through a long exchange of possible alternative payment methods, trying to extract information that will identify him.

With all of these - beware! And what do you plan to do when you capture him? In most countries it is frowned upon to keep prisoners in your basement.

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In case you're wondering that question was asked in 2011. –  d.free Feb 23 at 23:06
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