INTERNET CRIME

Latest E-Mail Scam Offers Reprieve -- at a Price -- From Killer-for-Hire

By Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 26, 2008

If only real hit men were so courteous.

In recent months, authorities said, about a dozen Fairfax and Stafford county residents have received e-mails telling them that they are about to be killed. There is a twist: The killer offers a way out.

"The sender tells the receiver, 'I've been hired to kill you, it's one of your friends, I'm watching you. However . . . I don't believe you did what they said, and I'm going to give you a chance to pay me, and I won't kill you,' " Fairfax police spokeswoman Camille Neville said.

The e-mails are extortion for the electronic age, Fairfax and Stafford authorities said -- scams to intimidate recipients into divulging personal information.

"What the sender is hoping to 'hit' is an individual's bank account," Bill Kennedy, a Stafford County sheriff's office spokesman, said about the scheme.

The content of the messages varies, including the sum demanded, authorities said. The messages are often rife with spelling and grammar errors, Kennedy said. Authorities said they could detect no connection or pattern among the people who have received the e-mails, many of which were sent to work addresses.

Manassas resident Jessica Walker, 28, got one of e-mails at work last week. The message told her that for $15,000, she could have audiotapes of conversations between the hit man and the person who wanted her killed.

Walker, a cash-management specialist at a Fairfax bank, called police, but she said the e-mail gave her pause.

"You sit there and start racking your brain and thinking, 'Who would want to do it?' " Walker said. "Say that e-mail went to 10,000 people. Five percent of people probably responded to it, if for no other reason than to ask what was going on."

The hit man e-mails are not new. The Internet Crime Complaint Center, which tracks e-mail scam trends, warned of an increase in such threats in December 2006.

In recent months, the center has issued several alerts about the growing creativity in online scams. Aside from the usual requests for information on credit cards and debit cards, Web crooks have impersonated FBI agents who have demanded bribes or made threats; claimed to be State Department officials who discovered recipients' inheritances abroad; and called themselves U.S. soldiers in need of help, usually involving banking information.

The senders are often not sticklers for spelling. Another recent e-mail scheme comes from "Amando M. Tetangco, the Governot of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas," and tells recipients that they are the beneficiaries of a "large sum of money."

The e-mails all ask for personal or financial information. All are scams, the center said.

"The Department of State does not make unsolicited contact with individuals regarding matters such as inheritances," the center said in an alert.

Local authorities said those who receive such e-mails should not reply but should instead report them to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, at http://www.ic3.gov. Any e-mails that contain information such as the recipients' names or locations should be reported to police, authorities said.


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