In December 2006, an extortion attempt that appears to have originated in Russia began appearing in some inboxes. It purports to be from an assassin engaged by someone of the recipient’s acquaintance and offers to call off the “hit” in return for payment of $50,000, $80,000, $100,000, even $150,000. The scammer states he has been stalking the target for 10 days and demands an immediate response to his proposal. He also threatens to carry out his contract if the victim goes to the police.
Fear not: It’s all a scam. There is no such plot in place, no hitman who needs to be paid off. Numerous folks have received the same e-mail, so anyone who has had it land in his inbox need not fret he is being hunted by a hired killer. It’s a con, nothing more. The only thing at risk are the contents of the target’s bank account.
Says Special Agent Wendy A. Osborne of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Indianapolis office, “We have no reason to believe these threats are legitimate. There are misspellings and grammar errors in the e-mails that lead us to believe it originates from overseas.”
In December 2006, on its New E-Scams & Warnings web page, the FBI issued the following alert:
We have recently received information concerning spam e-mails threatening to assassinate the recipient unless the individual pays several thousand dollars to the sender of the e-mail.
The subject claims to have been following the victim for some time and was supposedly hired to kill the victim by a friend of the victim. The subject threatens to carry out the assassination if the victim goes to the police and requests the victim to respond quickly and provide their telephone number.
Warning! Providing any personal information can compromise your identify and open you to identity theft.
If you have experienced this situation, please notify your local, state, or federal law enforcement agency immediately. Also, please notify the IC3 by filing a complaint at www.ic3.gov.
In January 2007, the Bureau added this update to its earlier warning:
There is a new twist to the IC3 alert posted on December 7, 2006 regarding e-mails claiming that the sender has been paid to kill the recipient and will cancel the contract on the recipient’s life if that person pays a large sum of money. Now e-mails are surfacing that claim to be from the FBI in London. These e-mails note the following information:
- An individual was recently arrested for the murders of several United States and United Kingdom citizens in relation to this matter.
- The recipient’s information was found on the subject identifying the recipient as the next victim.
- The recipient is requested to contact the FBI in London to assist with the investigation.
- It is not uncommon for an Internet fraud scheme to have the same overall intent but be transmitted containing variations in the e-mail content, e.g., different names, e-mail addresses, and/or agencies reportedly involved.
Please note, providing any personal information in response to an unsolicited e-mail can compromise your identity and open you to identity theft.
If you have experienced this situation please notify the IC3 by filing a complaint at www.ic3.gov.
Due to the threat of violence inherent in these extortion e-mails, if you receive an e-mail that contains personally identifiable information that might differentiate your e-mail from the general e-mail spam campaign, we encourage you to contact the police.
By June 2008, the scam was appearing in a new part of the world and in a new form. Cell phone users in Australia found anonymous text messages like this show up on their units:
Someone paid me to kill you. If you want me to spare you, I’ll give you two days to pay $5000. If you inform the police or anybody, you will die. I am monitoring you.
One final note for those who’ve received such missives: Before allowing yourself to be spun into a panic by the idea that someone has been set on your trail with orders to kill you, take a few deep breaths and re-read the e-mail, this time looking for any indications that its sender knows anything about you. Are you addressed by name? Does the sender mention a location you frequent as one of the places he’s followed you? Does he demonstrate that he knows your address or your phone number? Does he name your place of business? Does he mention any of your family members by name?
If you find such indications, contact your local police to turn the matter over to them. If, however, nothing in the threat indicates the sender knows anything about you, discard the e-mail and worry not.
Barbara “the only hit being contemplated is upon your wallet” Mikkelson
Kawamoto, Dawn. “FBI Warns of Twist in Extortion Phishing Scam.”
CNET News.com. 12 January 2007.
Rivoli, Jonathan. “A New Twist to an Old Scam.”
Bismarck Tribune. 13 January 2007.
Ryckaert, Vic. “‘Hit Man’ Extortion Scam Appearing in Hoosier Inboxes.”
Richmond Times Dispatch. 11 January 2007.
Thomson, Chris. “Bada-boom Spam: Hitman SMS Alert.”
The Sydney Morning Herald. 1 July 2008.