Sikes’ story highlights dangers of email scams

Published 11:00 pm Thursday, June 7, 2012

At first glance, an email sent from Pike Liberal Art School’s Headmaster Ceil Sikes Thursday morning might have seemed like cause for concern.

“No, I am not in the Philippines, or the U.K., and I have not been robbed at gunpoint,” Sikes said with a small chuckle, safe and sound from her office at the school.

Sikes’ email account was compromised and many people in her online address book received an early morning note which began, “I’m writing this Email with Tears rolling Down my Cheeks. Am Presently here in Philippines for a Program and got mugged at gun point last night at the park of the hotel where i lodged.”

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The wording, poor grammar and odd capitalization of some letters was a quick tip-off that the email wasn’t legit. Sikes, an educator, wasn’t likely to have made those mistakes.

“I have gotten multiple calls today,” Sikes said. “It’s nice to know that people were worried about my safety and that they cared enough to alert me to the security issue.”

Sikes said resetting her password was an easy fix to stop the emails from continuing to go out.

And while it appears no one fell victim to this scam that asked recipients of the Sikes impersonator’s email to send almost $2,000 via Western Union, the Internet Crime Complaint Center reports other people weren’t so lucky when it came to Internet scams last year.

The IC3 recently released their 2011 Internet Crime Report and the center received 314,246 complaints resulting in $485 million in reported stolen funds. At the top of the email scams list were Federal Bureau of Investigation impersonation scams, according to IC3.

“I think a lot of times people take what they get on the computer, or even in the mail, at face value and sometimes they react to it without knowing the whole story,” said Troy Police Sgt. Benny Scarbrough.

In cases such as Sikes’, people receiving an email from a friend or family member in trouble should contact that person, or someone else close to them, Scarbrough suggested.

“Get the most obvious concerns and questions out of the way about their safety,” he said. “And if you receive word you’ve won something, no legitimate prize will cost you money or ask for your bank account information. If it seems to good to be true, it is.”

And with the U.S. Senate declaring the month of June Internet Safety Month, there’s an extra push from government agencies for people to beef up their online security.

“Make sure you have an antivirus program on a computer. Install anti-spyware. Make sure your firewall is operating,” Scarbrough said. “Phishing and fraudulent emails are a big thing, but you can be proactive from both sides.”