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Beware the “Hitman”

By   /   December 21, 2010  /   Comments Off

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The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department has been investigating several complaints from citizens who report being threatened in an email, widely known as the “Hitman Scam.” The FBI first reported the Hitman Scam on their web site back in December 2006. It made the rounds for a few years and died down. However, it seems to have made a comeback and you should be aware of this scam as it can be very unsettling.

In the email, the sender claims to have been hired by “someone you know very well” to kill you. But the sender says that he will reconsider carrying out the “hit” for a price. The price varies from a few thousand dollars to as high as several hundred thousand dollars. The email will further warn the recipient not to contact the police or family members will be harmed.

While death threats and extortion attempts are nothing to take lightly, recipients of the Hitman Scam email can take solace in the fact that they are boilerplate texts. Residents in different parts of the country have received identically-worded messages, according to the FBI. Federal agents are already investigating this bizarre new form of spam.

The most important thing to know about these emails is that if you receive one, you shouldn’t respond. In addition to soliciting your cash, the perpetrators hope to persuade you to share personal data so they can steal your identity. The FBI encourages recipients of the scam message to file a report online at www.ic3.gov (the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center).
We encourage you to read the email a few times to see if it seems like it is specific to you, or does it look like it easily could have been emailed to millions of unsuspecting potential victims?

For example, does the email use your name, address, phone number, family members’ names, and several other specific things that show the information is truly about you? If the email contains significant information that is specific to you, contact your local law enforcement agency right away and make a report.

So far we know that the messages are originating from overseas; many from Moscow, Russia (note the fractured grammar, indicating they were written by non-English speakers) and are being emailed to addresses apparently selected from professional databases (i.e., targeting recipients who presumably have the resources to pay an extortionist). As FBI cybercrime supervisor Bill Shore noted in an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “All they’re looking for is one guy to pay off. Then their job is done.”

Further, a new variant of this Hitman scam surfaced in January that seems more focused on identity theft. These email scams are supposedly from the FBI in London. They claim that an individual was recently arrested for the murders of several United States and United Kingdom citizens and the recipient’s information was found on the subject identifying the recipient as the next victim. The recipient is then requested to contact the FBI in London to assist with the investigation.

This variant seems more geared toward identity theft, and asks for personal information from the victim to “help” the FBI. Unfortunately, all of these emails can be very disturbing, and it isn’t hard to imagine people getting conned.

The FBI has posted information about new e-scams and warnings along with the Hitman Scam threat on their website at www.fbi.gov. From the homepage, select the icon listing “What We Investigate” and then select “Cyber Crimes”. From there, select E-Scams under “Cyber Threats”.

In releasing their 2006 Internet Crime Report. It’s interesting to note that the FBI included the Hitman emails in their report.
Here is a summary of some of the most interesting findings:

  • $198.4 million was lost by the 207,492 people who filed complaints with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) in 2006. This is the highest total ever.
  • Online auction fraud was the most frequent type of complaint, comprising nearly 45% of the complaints.
  • Surprisingly, nearly 61% of the scammers lived in the US. The U.K., Nigeria, Canada, Romania, and Italy were the most common countries scammers came from.
  • Three quarters of the scammers were men.
  • People who lost money lost an average of $724. People conned by the Nigerian scam lost an average of $5,100.

Staying vigilant and aware is the key. Visit informational web sites regularly to stay on top of the latest scams. There are several available, such as www.urbanlegends.about.com, www.snopes.com or just search the urban legends or internet scams in your internet browser.

The more aware you are of these scams, the less chance you will become a victim.

Sheriff’s Public Affairs Division

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About the author

San Bernardino Sheriff's Public Affairs Division

The Public Affairs Division consists of specialized units, Media Liaison, Community Liaison, Labor/Industrial Relations, Operation CleanSWEEP, Crime-Free Multi-Housing, Juvenile Intervention Program and Special Projects. The division serves as a departmental representative by fostering relationships between the organization and the communities. Division staff works closely with media sources, citizen groups, labor units, residents, schools, apartment managers, property owners and the faith community to facilitate the flow of information between the Sheriff's Department and the citizens they serve. The relationship provides a key point of contact for community policing initiatives and problem solving. By working cooperatively with members of the community, the division is committed to making San Bernardino County a safer place to live and work. . Some of the folks we need to recognize at the Public Affairs Office that help get the stories out are, "Arden Wiltshire" (awiltshire(at)sbcsd.org), "Cynthia, Beavers" (cbeavers(at)sbcsd.org), and "Jodi Miller" (jmiller(at)sbcsd.org) Locally we might get stories written by Corporal Rick Millard, Captain Don Miller and others.

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