Bullseye Case Study: “Help, I’m Stranded”

One of the staff at Bullseye Investigations received the following email, apparently from an old friend:


If it were true-what a terrifying tale! Imagine being stuck thousands of miles from home with no money and a hotel bill to settle.

The  “good friend” instinct is very strong,  so a reply was sent, and this was received:


The passage of even a small amount of time is a wonderful thing. The purported author is a highly articulate speaker and consultant. However, usage patterns such as “from a money gram outlet around” raised a bit of suspicion. The purported author  would also, of course, know  that there is no Publix store anywhere near where  the recipient of the email lives!

A final reply was sent with an identification question “where  did we meet?” and  no response was received. The scam had been defeated. Unfortunately, several other individals acted without thinking, and initiated money transfers. Fortunately, given clear  evidence of a scam, the transfers were reversed.

The moral is obvious, and has been sourced to many places, including a Russian proverb and President Ronald Reagan: trust but verify. The mistakes in the solicitation email could have been the result of stress. In any case, however, the actual  sender would  have known the answer to the identification question, and  it would have removed all doubt.

This “stranded” email is a member of a larger family.  Other “relatives” include messages about large wire transfers and undelivered packages. In some cases, including this one, slight alterations to known email addresses provide a useful clue as well. Part of  the consultant’s email has the text string “tor” in it. The email received had the string “t0r” (zero for o). Many explanations are, of course possible for this, but verification  removes all doubt!