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

22 November 2011

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. 

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