For half a second, I thought the email might be legitimate. It had the return address of an author I know, it mentioned the series she writes, and it had the name of her home town. It even seemed plausible that she had gone to Malasia to market her latest book. But I knew she had a grown son, a business manager, and friends a lot closer to her than I am, so it seemed strange that she would be sending me an urgent request for nine hundred dollars so she could get home.
When I slowed down and reread it, the clues were obvious that it was a scam. The story was that author’s trip to market her latest book had been successful until she was attacked by masked, gun-toting “hooligans” who beat her severely and robbed her of everything she had, including her cell phone. An ambulance took her to the hospital, where she was assisted in getting to the U.S. Embassy, who agreed to let her leave the country without a passport, but demanded that she pay her own “fair.” Then came the request that I send money via Western Union to her at — you guessed it — Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The plea ended with a heartfelt promise to help me if I am ever in the same situation, and instructions on how to scan the sending receipt so she can present it to Western Union in Kuala Lumpur.
Most of my scam emails begin with “My Dear,” and then go on to say the writer is the daughter of a highly placed dignitary who left her millions in a Swiss account that she will share with me if I only send her a thousand or so to travel to Switzerland. Those mails are good for a laugh, but this is the first I’ve had where somebody has gone into a person’s computer so thoroughly that they got her home address, the titles of the books she’s written, and her email contacts. That’s a particularly creepy invasion of a person’s privacy.
It makes me realize that we’re all vulnerable to being hacked, and perhaps writers are more vulnerable than most. So if you get an email from me asking for money to help me get home from Kuala Lumpur, just ignore it. If I’m really there, I’ll sweet-talk that American Embassy guy into loaning me the money.