Charles Polcyn knew something was wrong when he started getting phone calls from people in different parts of the world. They were reacting to an e-mail message from him that neither he nor his family had sent.
Someone had stolen Polcyn’s e-mail list and used it to send messages saying he was in trouble and needed money.
But exactly who stole the list and how is a mystery.
Now Polcyn, a beekeeper from Winnipeg, is in a bit of a bind. Whoever stole his list also changed the password, so he can’t contact people to say the message was a scam.
He doesn’t have a backup, so he’ll have to rebuild the list piece by piece.
Meanwhile, someone out there has Polcyn’s e-mail list and the password to it. Polcyn worries it could be sold to a different con artist for another scam attempt.
“I would certainly think that it’s an opportunity for anybody to sell all or part of that list to somebody else,” said Polcyn, president of the Red River Apiarists Association.
His predicament shows that, in this increasingly wired age, no one is immune to computer fraud, not even a honey producer from Manitoba.
Technically, Polcyn’s case isn’t identify theft because it doesn’t involve biographical information, such as date of birth or social insurance number, said Sergeant Les Dolhun, an investigator with the RCMP’s commercial crime centre in Winnipeg.
But it is fraud, or at least attempted fraud, because it’s false representation – an effort to get money under false pretences, Dolhun said.
Anyone who knows Polcyn could probably tell right away the message was a fake. The person purporting to be him says he’s stranded in the U. K., having had his money and passport stolen, and would people please help him by wiring money via Western Union to an address in Liverpool. The message is so awkwardly worded, it practically has “scam” written all over it.
But there are some on Polcyn’s e-mail list who may not know him as well as others do. Those are people he works with overseas as a honey consultant for the Canadian Executive Service Organization, a non-profit group which offers the services of retired business professionals.
One of Polcyn’s friends in Europe offered to set up a sting in order to nab the person.
Polcyn also hopes Yahoo can put up a block to prevent further messages from going out.
Dolhun says Polcyn could contact Phonebusters, a website operated jointly by the RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police to report fraud. It’s at www.phonebusters.com.
There are several things people can do to prevent e-mail theft, said Dolhun.
For example, when using an Internet café, always go into website tools and clear out the history before logging out. Otherwise, the history remains in place and a person coming in afterwards can go back to the account and use it.
“Because it’s open, he now has the administrator rights to change the password.”
Dolhun also advises people using laptops in public places to be vigilant against “shoulder surfing” – someone looking over your shoulder, recording what you type in and using it later.
He also warns against “phishing”– replying to e-mails that look official but are really fraudulent and providing personal information, such as bank accounts and credit card numbers. [email protected]