The other day I was on Facebook and a chat window popped up from a college friend of mine.
Bob: Hey there. How are u doing?
Sharon: ok. you?
Bob: Am not too good. Im in some kind of deep mess right now
Sharon: uh oh. what happened?
What "Bob" didn't know was that I was already suspicious of him by then.
Bob: Im stranded in London. I got mugged at a gun point last night!
Sure you did, "Bob."
This is a classic example of the "I've been mugged!" scam that's been going around Facebook chat. A friend starts a chat, tells how they've been mugged in some world city, and begs you to use Western Union to wire them some money.
(Poor Western Union. Does anyone use them for anything legitimate any more?)
Not to mention -- robbed at gunpoint? In England? Are you kidding?
But I played along.
Sharon: oh no!
Bob: All cash,credit card and phone was stolen!
Sharon: that's terrible!
Bob: Thank God i still have my life and passport
Sharon: yes, for sure
Bob: I need your urgent help Sharon!
Sharon: how can I help?
Then I waited for "the touch." Sadly, there were no more messages, and four minutes later "Bob" had signed off.
I got into email to contact "Bob" and let him know what was going on, only to find email from him in my mailbox, warning that he thought his account had been hacked and to ignore any chat messages from him.
What tipped me off is that I'd read articles about this method. But what tipped Bob -- the real one -- off?
"They tried to change my contact email address," Bob said. "FB sent a notice asking me to confirm the change. I had not initiated said change, so I knew something was up."
(Notice, too, the sorts of word choices and spelling the real Bob uses, compared to the fake one.)
What should you do if you're on the receiving end of one of these scams? Experts suggest that you try to confirm some piece of information that only the real person would know, such as the last time you saw each other or the names of their children or pets. And, of course, try to contact the real person to see if they're actually in London or wherever.
Obviously, also, pay attention if you get an unexpected message trying to change your email address. Bob took the additional step of emailing his friends, plus posting a message with his real location so people would be suspicious if they then heard he was in London.
Sadly, many of these scams are perpetrated outside the U.S., so it's tough to nail them.