Scam of the week - watch out for the 'sad news' scam

Fraudsters target millions of people via email every day, with scams becoming more and more elaborate.

At Moneywise several readers have contacted us about 'Sad News' scams. These 'phishing' scams involve a fraudster hacking into an email account and sending out emails to people in the address book.

These emails ask the recipient for money to be transferred via Western Union to help a friend who is stranded abroad, and they can seem very genuine.

Moneywise reader Victor Courtice received the following email from an old friend of his, Douglas, who is now living in America.

"How are you doing? This has had to come in a hurry and it has left me in a devastating state. My family and I had a visit to Wales unannounced some days back for a short vacation, unfortunately we were mugged at the park of the hotel where we stayed, all cash, cell phones and credit cards were stolen off us but luckily for us we still have our passports with us. We've been to the Embassy and the Police here they're not helping issues at all and our flight leaves tomorrow but we're having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won't let us leave until we settle the bills. Please I really need your financial assistance. Please, Let me know if you can help us out?"

If you think you've been scammed get in touch by leaving a comment below or emailing us on and let us know exactly what has happened. 


Victor says: "When I read this I would have sent him £2,000 if he had needed it. However, the content of the message didn't sound like Douglas and the use of the headline 'Sad News' to me suggests a death in the family which this was not."

Victor called his friend Douglas and discovered his account had been hacked.

"There has definitely been an increase in these kind of emails and the hackers are playing a percentage game," says Stephen Proffitt, spokesperson for Action Fraud.

He explains: "This is a growing trend because it's not that difficult for the fraudsters to get into an email account and if they send the email out to everyone in the address book they just need one person to respond and they'll be rewarded."

How to avoid being scammed

If you receive one of these emails do not open any attachments, never give out bank details or password information and do not send a reply.

There will quite often be grammar and spelling mistakes within the email and it may use especially emotive language to try to tempt you into parting with your cash. Make your own enquiries first and contact the person by phone before taking any action.

If your email account has been hacked into first contact your provider and check your security settings are up to date and then contact action fraud to report the hacking at or by calling 0300 123 2040. 

Your Comments

re sad news scam
I had an almost identical e-mail some time ago, but from aomewhere in South  America, so that I could not phone tyhe friend (his English phone was an answerphone) I was suspicious and replied that I would help, but would he pleasee answer  a question to which I knew noone else could possibly know the answer.  When gthey got back home gthey e-mailed everyone explainiing that they too had had their laptop stolen - well, you know the rest......

I experienced this hard-luck emil twice 2 or 3 years ago. As I did not know either sender that well, so had no phone numbers, I emailed them for confirmation. In one case the sender conirmed her laptop had been stolen. In the second case I received a reply that the email was genuine and that they really needed the money. As this was a virtual stranger I ignored it and never heard back. I suspect the reply was from the hacker.
It's worth remembering that any confirmation by email is suspect since the hacker has access to all emails.  Asking for information that only the sender would know,as jallanw did, is always best.

We have had several of these, and about once a month get other types of bogus email from one or other friend's hacked account.  What we have noticed is that the hacked account is always hotmail or gmail.  Are these particularly vulnerable?  Apart from the hacker now having a lot of valid email addresses, is there any other risk  for the friends of the owner of the hacked account?

There is an old saying "A fool and his money are soon parted!" and if your stupid enough to fool for a scam like this, you deserve to lose your money!
Anytime I receive an email like this, I just send an email to the correct email address telling them they've been hacked!