HOLIDAY ISLAND -- The desperate-sounding email came from local Holiday Island property owner Mariellen Griffith. She said she was in Spain with her cousin, who was suffering from a kidney disorder and needed a transplant right away to save her life.
Could we send $1,500 right away to help her out? Griffith had traveled with very little money because of the emergency and promised to pay it back when she returned home with her cousin in tow to get the transplant done in the States.
"We've gotten about five or six calls about this," said Donald Soderberg, who returned our call to Mariellen. "Someone has hacked her email address with AOL and sent this out. Mariellen is not in Spain and doesn't have a cousin needing a kidney transplant. Sorry about that."
This kind of spam email, called the "Help Me Scam" or the "Grandparent Scam," has been going around for quite some time. Grandparents will receive an email supposedly from a grandchild or a friend overseas who has been robbed of money and passport and needs financial help.
The email appears to come from a legitimate email address of the person they know. But if they hit "Reply," their email goes to a "Reply-To" address that differs slightly from the real email address.
According to the Consumer Federation of America, based in Washington, D.C., people are targeted through marketing lists, social networking sites like Facebook, telephone listings, obituaries and other sources. Scammers reading obituaries can get the names of family members to make their plea sound more legitimate.
But sometimes scammers don't always know the names of who they are contacting.
Some scams involve a phone call from a supposed grandchild asking for help.
They will call in the middle of the night when people are sleepy and say, "Hi, Grandma!" If the person being called says, "David, is that you?" the scammer has hit the jackpot.
They always want money to be sent immediately.
If you receive such a call, ask questions that would be hard for an impostor to answer, such as the name of a pet or a mother's or sibling's birthday. Even if they give the correct information, tell them you will call them back, and then call other friends or family members to confirm the legitimacy of the story.
"Mariellen has changed her password and reassured everyone they don't need to send $1,500," said Soderberg.
Then he joked, "Of course, if you want to send me $1,500, I'll be more than happy to accept it, but I won't be spending it on a kidney transplant!"