E-mail scam targets friends and family

February 15, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
There is a new e-mail scam that is making the rounds and doing so in record time. Among the local victims is a Bay Area church secretary. Identity thieves are hacking into e-mail accounts and sending out messages to friends and associates asking for help. This is not some shabby, easy-to-see-through scam.

If you have been around St. Joseph's in Mountain View, you have probably been around Teresa Lumbreras. She has been working the front office there for 25 years. That means she has racked up a lot of e-mail addresses and a lot of relationships, too.

So when an e-mail was sent out under her name, there was a lot of concern. It said she had "traveled to Wales for a Catholic seminar" and that she was robbed at gun point and needed a lot of money to pay her hotel bill and fly home.

"How much is it? £1,360 pounds, and they say they are trying to figure out how much money that is in U.S. dollars," Lumbreras recalled. "I said, 'Are you really going to help sending that money to me?"

And some friends were. Others thought the e-mail did not sound legit. When they wrote to ask, they received notes back saying it was Lumbreras and she needed help.

"More than 90 people have called me on my cell phone and on my landline. It is not ending. Calling me, 'Teresa, Oh thank God you are there.' I said, 'Why?' ... ''Oh because I got an e-mail saying you are in Wales and you're stranded there, and I said, 'No, I am here, but thank you for your concern.'"

No money was sent, at least none that we know of, but through this experience Lumbreras has been blessed.

"They have contacted the priests trying to figure out where is Teresa. I felt so important, not knowing I was important before. But now, after this I can't believe people from New Hampshire, from Maryland, from Los Angeles, from San Francisco, and even from the Philippines have tried to call me and find out."

Hacking e-mail accounts and then asking those in the address book for help is becoming a common scam. It has always been around, but it seems ID thieves have recently really pounced on it. So do not send money until you speak to someone, and change your password occasionally.