This story was first published on February 21, 2008
Out of the blue, you receive a rather disturbing email claiming that a friend wants you dead and has already paid a professional assassin to kill you. The message purports to be from the assassin himself and claims that he will spare your life if you pay him a large fee.
Supposedly, if you pay the requested amount, the “helpful” hitman will even throw in recordings of the “friend” ordering the hit so that you can go to the police with concrete evidence.
However, the story is entirely bogus. The message was not sent by a paid assassin. The people responsible are Internet fraudsters attempting to use fear to coerce gullible recipients into paying fees to cancel a completely imaginary kill order.
Scammers have been using the same ruse for well over a decade now.
In December 2006, the FBI issued the following alert about these scam emails:
E-MAILS CONTAINING THREATS AND EXTORTION
12/07/06—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.
A variation of the same basic scam in which emails claimed to be from the FBI in London, prompted a second FBI alert in January 2007:
NEW TWIST CONCERNING THREAT AND EXTORTION E-MAILS
01/09/07—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.
The amount of the requested fee varies considerably. The example included here asks for $9000, but other versions request amounts ranging from $1000 up to $80,000 and more. Earlier versions of the scam may have deliberately targeted more wealthy professionals such as dentists. However, other incarnations seem to be more randomly distributed. News stories about the scam emails indicate that they have been reported in several countries, including Australia, Canada and the United States.
Although many recipients would quickly recognise such messages as fake, some have actually fallen victim to the scam and paid up. A February 2008 article in The Gold Coast Bulletin notes:
Queensland fraud and corporate crime group boss Detective Superintendent Brian Hay said yesterday investigators were aware of a Polish scammer who had made $56,000 through the threatening email scam from scared Australians in less than one year.
He said detectives knew of at least one Gold Coast resident who had received a Hitman threat and had paid up the required amount.
If you receive a hitman scam email that includes specific personal information about you, the FBI advises that you should report it to the police:
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.
An example of the scam email:
Subject: BE MORE CAREFUL !!!
I am very sorry for you ,It is a pity that this is how your life is going to end as soon as you don’t comply. As you can see there is no need for me introducing myself to you because I don’t have any business with you, my duty as I am mailing you now is just to (KILL YOU ) and I have to do it as I have already been paid for that.
Someone you call a Friend want’s you Dead by all means, and the person have spent a lot of money on this, the person also came to US and told me that he wanted you dead and he provided us with your name ,picture and other necessary information’s we needed about you. So I have sent my boy’s to track you down in Pakistan and they have carried out the necessary investigation needed for the operation on you, and they have done that but I told them not to kill you that I will like to contact you and see if your life is Important to you or not.since we have find out that you are innocent.
I called my client back and ask him of your email address which I didn’t tell him what I wanted to do with it and he gave it to me and I am using it to contact you now. As I am writing to you now my men are monitoring you and they are telling me everything about you.
Now do you want to LIVE OR DIE? As someone has paid us to kill you. Get back to me now if you are ready to pay some fees to spare your life, $9,000 is all you need to spend You will first of all pay $5,000 then I will send a tape to you which i recoeded every discusion i hade with the person who wanted you dead and as soon as you get the tape, you will pay the remaining $4,000. If you are not ready for my help, then I will carry on with my job straight-up.
WARNING: DO NOT THINK OF CONTACTING THE POLICE OR EVEN TELLING ANYONE BECAUSE I WILL KNOW.REMEMBER, SOMEONE WHO KNOWS YOU VERY WELL WANT YOU DEAD! I WILL EXTEND IT TO YOUR FAMILY, INCASE I NOTICE SOMETHING FUNNY. DO NOT COME OUT ONCE IT IS 7:PM UNTIL I MAKE OUT TIME TO SEE YOU AND GIVE YOU THE TAPE OF MY DISCUSSION WITH THE PERSON WHO WANT YOU DEAD THEN YOU CAN USE IT TO TAKE ANY LEGAL ACTION. GOOD LUCK AS I AWAIT YOUR REPLY