A couple hours ago, I received an email from my beloved professor Charles Nesson. It was from his Gmail account, saying that he was stuck in the U.K. and needed money right away.
Apologies for having to reach out to you like this, but I made a quick trip to the UK and had my bag stolen from me with my passport and credit cards in it. The embassy has cooperated by issuing a temporary passport, I just have to pay for a ticket and settle Hotel bills.
To be honest, i don’t have money with me, I’ve made contact with my bank but the best they could do was to send me a new card in the mail which will take 2-4 working days to arrive here. i was thinking of asking you to lend me some quick funds that i can give back as soon as i get in,i really need to be on a last minute flight that leaves in a few hours.
I can furnish you with info on how you will get me the money. You can reach me via (firstname.lastname@example.org) as am logged on via a smart device or hotel’s desk phone, the number is, +447045749898.
Given that this email was from his gmail address, I responded to him.
I’m in class so I can’t phone you, but I can transfer funds to you via PayPal (I think this would be the fastest) or call the hotel later (I will be done in 2 hours) and give them my credit card info.
Meanwhile, I will be on Gchat (Gmail’s chat) if you need me.
Please can you make a western union transfer to me? (Let me know if you need my details) I need $1,900, I have a few hours to make a flight. I will pay back once I return to the States.
So I replied,
Can you provide details? Can I do it online?
Charlie writes back:
Kindly wire the funds from any western union agent location using my details below:
Receiver: Charles Nesson
Address: 61 renfrew street,Glasgow, Scotland, G2 3BW
Country: United Kingdom
Please send me the money control number(MTCN) upon completion of the transaction to enable me pick up the funds. I have a temporal passport issued by the embassy, I can use this pick up the funds.
I wrote back:
I think I can do it through their website. Registering now…will let you know when transaction is complete
He wrote back:
There is a limit of $999 for online transfers, easier from an agent location.
Right, I just found that out. However, I am in class and won’t be able to go to an agent for another hour and a half. Is that okay?
Ok, I will check back in about 2 hours. Thanks
So with after this fairly long interaction, I try to figure out if this is a real email. Fortunately, one of my previous colleagues, D, (we were on the same project with Nesson) was online on Gchat. “it’s not charlie. he wouldn’t use capital letters,” she says. She calls him at home, which I was unable to do because I was in class (don’t ask me why I was checking my email during class). Of course, Charlie is not in the U.K.
Interestingly, if they had said $999, which is doable through online, I may have sent it.
This was a fascinating case, not only because of the privacy/scam issue, but due to the fact that Debbie was able to pick up on the nonverbal cues (this is the communication scholar in me coming out). Charlie has a very unique writing style, which rarely includes capital letters or complete sentences, and is more like a free-form verse that always seems cryptic and poetic. Clearly, the scammers were not able to pick up on these cues in our interaction (the original email had lower case “i’s”).
I wish I could contact the British police somehow, so that whoever is at that address can be arrested when they try to pick up the money two hours later. In the meantime, poor Charlie can’t get into his Gmail account and tell people to heed the message. Harvard Law School was able to send a warning mail to people he communicated with through his Harvard mail, but not those contacts who were only in his Gmail.
Meanwhile, I send another email to the scammer: “Charlie, just to check that this is not a spam, can you describe how we first met?” No reply.