FBI issues alert on 'hit man' e-mail scam


by Shern-Min Chow / KHOU 11 News


Posted on June 15, 2011 at 10:13 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 15 at 11:35 PM

HOUSTON – A viewer contacted KHOU 11 News after receiving an e-mail from a man who claimed he was hired to kill her, and it turns out, the e-mail was going out to a lot of people.

In May,  a viewer, who only wanted to be identified as Mary, said she turned on her computer to find an e-mail titled “Someone you call your friend wants you dead.”

The e-mail was from a supposed “hit man” hired to kill her. The writer went on to say “Now do you want to live or die? It’s up to you…I mean life trade.”

Mary immediately called police, who thought it was a con, but warned her nonetheless.
“We’re going to double all sorts of people watching you and etc. etc., which made me much more anxious,” she said.

The e-mail demanded $8,000 to call off the hit, and threatened her family if she contacted authorities.

While Mary agreed it was likely a scam, her background in psychology and psychotherapy alerted her to other possibilities.

“There could be a very sick person out there doing this,” she said.

Mary said she did not sleep well.

Turns out, it is a fraud. In fact, the FBI has nicknamed it the “hit man scam.”

 “We, literally, have received thousands of complaints about this type of scam,” said FBI spokesperson Jenny Shearer.

Shearer said the FBI’s Computer Complaint Center, or IC3 division, has sent out several alerts about it.

How do cybercriminals often target these victims? Crooks use Facebook, Myspace and other social-networking sites.

“We call it social engineering. Cyber criminals will go to these sites and start reading these people’s information because there’s a lot of personally identifiable information or P.I.I. they’re giving up about themselves freely when they’re using these sites,” Shearer said.

Mary has also received other scam e-mails, saying she’s a lucky lottery winner or has inherited millions, but none like this, she said.

“Those scams are laughable, but this is vicious, and that’s the difference,” she said.

The FBI advises restricting privacy settings on your Facebook page. Limit who can see what.

If you have been targeted, file a complaint with IC3, the FBI’s Computer Complaint Center. That central database helps with finding trends and investigating the scams.