News reports have kept us informed over the years about the FBI's efforts to combat internet scams. Add a new one to the list. Here I outline the new twist on an old scam that fraudsters used to target me. Thankfully I caught on before it was too late. But believe me, someone put in a disturbing amount of thought into this scam.
You can see in the email chain below that this was not the typical spam job. No, this was definitely targeted.
To be honest, it was actually pretty believable at first. Why? Because it came from my Boss!
This is truly a pretty aweful trick. It plays on people's fear and employment anxieties. But it's easy enough to do. And according to an AARP report, 35% of all online scams are business imposters.
Looking back, it's worth noting that any fraudster can find you and your boss on LinkedIn or even Facebook.
It's very convincing when a request comes from your boss. We could examine why that is. But in general, we're conditioned to follow orders aren't we?
But in reality-- the timing of the whole thing is what almost got me. I'll explain why below.
Here's How It Went Down
First, I got a short email to my personal email from my "Boss."
It's worth noting that I talk with my Boss quite a bit on the phone, via text, and through email. He's nice, very busy, slightly older, and adds far too many emojis to every text. In general, asking to chat in the middle of the day via email is something he would do.
It's just quirky enough that it matches his style.
Beyond that, the timing of this email is actually quite brilliant.
11:00 AM on a Tuesday is Brilliant?
The late morning rush on a Tuesday is basically one of the busiest times and days of the week. I'm slammed, and I know my boss is too.
Therefore, when I saw his email pop up, I rolled my eyes, but didn't think twice and just replied.
I figured he was probably stuck in the middle of a Zoom meeting on his phone, and trying to get ahold of me at the same time using email on his computer.
I replied, "Yes, I'm available."
A minute later, my boss responded to apologize for being preoccupied. He then stated he needed to figure out where he could get his hands on some ebay gift cards to give a client.
It's an odd question, but it didn't raise a red flag.
Instead I assumed I'd get the backstory in a moment, as soon as he got out of his meeting.
Beyond that, I know my boss' wife is in real estate. I also know he helps her occassionally with certain aspects of her business. In addition, I used to be in real estate myself, where it's not uncommon to give clients gift cards. It made a certain type of sense.
I didn't know what was coming next. I just assumed my technologically-deficient boss needed a hand. There's no explanation at this point, so I was basically filling in my own backstory.
Afterall, in this work from home environment, I was sitting in front of my computer. So all he was asking for was an easy internet search.
I replied quickly with the answer he was looking for; Hy-Vee, Walgreens, and CVS carry ebay gift cards. I got back to work.
Then a Few Minutes Later, "The Ask" Came
He needed more help. Having identified where to buy ebay gift cards, he now needed me to run out to the store and buy seven. At $200 a piece, that's $1400. But he was quick to state I'd be reimbursed tonight.
What Was I Thinking?
Again, I figured he was in a meeting. I figured I'd get the details later. I still thought it was my boss, who pays me. Why wouldn't I trust him?
More than that, the tone seemed about right. As mentioned, we've only been working together for about six months. But we're both busy working with customers trying to close deals. And in sales, sometimes you have to react quickly to secure a business deal.
So while I wasn't thrilled about the idea of putting $1400 on a credit card, it didn't seem completely out of the blue.
And in the back of my mind, I just got a stimulus check from the Government! (Add this to the brilliance of the fraudster's timing).
Right now there's just slightly less money stress in the air. Slightly more openess to a quick, reimbursable charge to keep the ball rolling.
So at this point, I was basically still going along with it.
More Brilliant Timing
Here's another factor about the timing. Again, at 11:25 AM, I'm starting to think about lunch.
In other words, I was already thinking about going out for lunch anyway.
Think about it. If your boss asked you to run an errand at any other time of day or night, it would be much more of a hassle. But right before lunchtime? Sure, why not. I was going out anyway.
And don't forget, I stupidly still believed I was talking to my boss at this point. For all the reasons already mentioned I told him I'd get the cards, and then asked where he needed me to deliver them.
My boss lives one town over, so I figured he'd reply telling me to swing past his house.
But instead, my boss's urgency increased. He told me he needed the cards ASAP. And further, to save time and stress, he told me to just send him pictures of the gift cards.
On one hand, I thought that seemed like a good idea. Why not just send him pictures of the cards instead of drive them over? I thought maybe he planned to forward the pictures to his wife's client.
It dawned on me slowly at first. The scenario was suddenly urgent. And it didn't seem as much like my boss anymore.
Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. OMG. It's a damn scam.
To confirm, I texted my boss.
"Hey, just confirming you need ebay cards? Just making sure it's not a Hacker."
His reply was unusually brief.
" ? "
At that point I knew for sure I was under attack by a scam artist. So I sent my real boss a screen grab of our email correspondence.
"Not me brother! (emoji smile, crying smile, thumbs up, crying smile)"
At that point, I replied to my fake boss asking if I should "check with the Police" before I carried out his plan. I thought that would be the last I heard from fake boss.
But fake boss actually replied!
His reply was actually threatening and quite cinematic.
"You must be playing with your job then."
Suddenly, I thought to myself, "who is this guy, Hans Gruber from Die Hard?!"
(Image of Hans Gruber in Die Hard property of 20th Century Fox)
Old Scams, New Twists
So the moral of the story is this. Bad actors want a piece of that pie. The world knows Americans cashed a stimulus check. Watch out for the old scams with a new twist. And be aware they could be very targeted. Here's the basics:
- Fraudsters can look you up on LinkedIn.
- They can find out who your boss is, and create a fake email account in his or her name.
- Next they might contact you right before lunch, with a small business related request.
- They'll ask you to help by purchasing gift cards for clients, and ask you to send pictures.
- They might act bossy, but claim you'll be reimbursed within hours.
- It's all a scam, they just want money.
Share your story in the comment section. It would be good to know if anyone else has been targeted by this or a similar scam?