Don't Fall for this Internet Scam

Written by Jimmy Mengel
Posted August 9, 2017 at 8:00PM

I received a very alarming e-mail from my old friend Ryan…

We hadn’t spoken in a year or two, and I was very happy to hear from him — until I read the contents of the message. He was writing me from Ireland, where he had apparently been vacationing over the summer.

But instead of bucolic pictures from Ireland’s countryside, he revealed something far more dark and sinister.

Ryan had been violently accosted by brutish strangers in a dark alley. His luggage, wallet, and passport had been stolen and he was beaten, bloodied, and stranded.

He pleaded with me to send him 50 bucks so that he could get a bus pass to visit the U.S. embassy and get a new passport so he could return home. He even provided a link where I could wire him the money right then and there.

The problem was, none of this was true…

For a second, I thought “Of course I can help.”

But the way the e-mail was worded gave me some pause. Ryan didn’t speak that way. And if he was really stranded I seriously doubt he would send out a mass e-mail to friends he hadn’t spoken to in years.

I was quite skeptical, to be sure.

But just in case this really was a desperate cry for help, I called Ryan to make sure he was okay. He answered the phone and was shocked when I told him about the e-mail.

“I’ve never even been out of the country,” he laughed. Ryan then sent his entire address book a warning about the e-mail, potentially saving dozens of people from rewarding thieves with their hard-earned cash.

The e-mail was quite clearly a scam. And, as it turns out, a very successful one at that…

The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center has logged over 150,000 of what it calls "stranded traveler" complaints. It has cost victims millions of dollars. But that is just a drop in the bucket...

“Phishing” scams — basically sending emails to encourage people to reveal personal information about themselves — cost individuals and businesses billions of dollars every year.

One of the most infamous is the Nigerian 419 scam. You’ve probably gotten one of these e-mails…

nigerian scam

How kind of a foreign stranger to offer you millions of dollars for a simple transaction! It's your lucky day!

Surprisingly enough, this particular scam has been outrageously effective. In 2013 alone, these scams cost unwitting victims $12.7 billion. All told, $82 billion has been lost to these outrageous schemes.

Right now, there is a brand-new scam going around that is duping internet users across the world.

Here’s what you should keep your eyes peeled for...

You receive an e-mail from what seems like a legitimate source. They are asking you to pay an old loan, a tax bill, or provide money for a friend in need of serious help.

The catch is that you need to pay the bill off in gift cards. The scammer directs you to go to someplace like Wal-Mart and purchase a fistful of gift cards for say, iTunes. They will then ask you to reveal the “scratch off” code on the back of the card and then call back with that number.

If you get any message like this: DON’T BELIEVE IT!

While it may sound a bit ridiculous to have to pay off a loan with a gift card, this scam has been spreading like wildfire...

  • A 74-year-old woman had $46,000 stolen from her after being duped into buying 330 iTunes gift cards
  • One Florida man was threatened with arrest if he did not pay back a tax debt with iTunes gift cards. He spent $2,300 to buy the gift cards until police intervened
  • A grandparent was duped into thinking his grandson needed $4,000 in bail money. He started buying iTunes gift cards in $500 increments before realizing he had been swindled

Another version of this scam is also perpetrated on iPhones. Duped citizens received a call from “Apple Support” asking them to call immediately regarding “theft activity." When the scammer on the other end answers the panicked phone call, they tell the victim that they need upwards of $1,000 in Apple gift cards in order to “unfreeze” all of their Apple devices.

Here are a couple of tips to make sure you’re never duped by one of these conniving con men…

1) Don’t reply to the message.

2) Never, ever give out financial information via e-mail. If any legitimate creditor requires payment, they will most certainly have a brick-and-mortar location, a secure webpage, or a customer contact line that you can verify online. If say, your grandson is in serious distress, simply contact someone who can confirm that.

2) Send any shady e-mails to the Federal Trade Commission. You can use the FTC Complaint Assistant on

3) You can also check out any dubious looking e-mail or phone calls on the Consumer Protection website, which you can view here. Take a look now so that you can head these thieves off at the pass. Currently, the site has articles for the following scams...

The list goes on and on.

In other words, think before you click. There are sharks in the water, and you don’t want to be the poor sap providing them with fresh blood.


Jimmy Mengel

follow basic @mengeled on Twitter

Jimmy is a managing editor for Outsider Club and the investment director of the personal finance advisory, The Crow's Nest, and cannabis stocks advisory, The Marijuana Manifesto. For more on Jimmy, check out his editor's page.

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