Hit Man scams, messages from a source claiming to be professional killer looking to extort money from the potential victim, have been around since December of 2006. The scam has continued to evolve through the years and a new version was deemed important enough to warrant special mention in the 2009 Internet Crime Report released by the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) on March 12th of this year.
The messages first began appearing in some victim’s inboxes in December of 2006 and appear to have originated in Russia. There were several variations of the emails but all told the same basic story. The sender claims to have been hired to kill the recipient for a certain amount of money, but is willing to call off the murder if the victim agrees to pay more than the original contract’s value.
The details vary from message to message. Some claim a friend wants you dead, others suggest a co-worker is responsible or even an angry family member. The amounts of the original price to complete the job range from $50,000 to $5,000.
What each of the messages has in common is the demand for more money, sometimes as much as $150,000. One email for $50,000 says the recipient will need to pay $80,000; another which claimed the hit cost $5,000 asked for $8,000 from the intended target, but not right away. Each of these extortive emails asks for an initial deposit, $20,000 to $3,000 depending on the size of the original hit fee, that once received will result in the potential victim being provided with a secretly taped conversation between the hit man and the friend, co-worker or family member who hired them. This tape can then be taken to the police or handled privately. All of these messages also point out that the recipient is under constant surveillance and any attempt to contact the police or other authorities before the down payment is received will result in the contract being carried out.
At the end of these scam messages, an email address is provided for further contact. If contacted through that email address, wiring instructions to a Western Union office or other such difficult to track location.
Receiving such an email can be quite alarming. Dan Lothian of CNN reported on a Boston-area man, Peter McGlothin who was shocked to find a message in his inbox in late 2007 claiming to be from a professional killer.
The email Mr. McGlothin received opened by saying it was, “a pity how your life is going to end.” Like the above mentioned messages, it said a friend had put out the contract and that his every movement was under constant observation by those hired to kill him.
The scammers then went for the real kill, an offer to spare his life for $30,000. Although warned against going to the police, Mr. McGlothin contacted the FBI immediately. He realized almost immediately it was a hoax, due to the fact that there was no personal information about Mr. McGlothin offered in the course of the email. It could have been, and no doubt was, sent to anyone, at any location. The message was completely generic.
Although Mr. McGlothin was able to deal with this obvious hoax in a rational and thoughtful manner, the usually cool and collected legal secretary found himself on edge for many days following. The email had suggested he be home by 7 PM to ensure his safety. One night, though, Mr. McGlothin says, “I was home at about 7:15. The doorbell rang and I almost fell on the floor.” A false alarm, but if a reasonable and rational person finds themselves this affected by the hit man scam, its no wonder others actually follow through out of fear.
The FBI warned of a variation of the scam that claims to come from an FBI office located in London, England. This version of the hit man scam is not a money-grab, but rather an attempt at identity theft.
The bogus emails claim that an individual was recently arrested in the UK who was responsible for the contract murders of several citizens of the United States and the United Kingdom. The recipient’s name was found on the individual along with indications that the recipient was the next intended victim. The person is then asked to contact the FBI office via email and confirm certain information like name, address and social security number in order to assist with the investigation. As usual, the Federal Bureau of Investigation notes that business such as this is rarely done over the phone and never conducted over email.
A year and a half ago, reports began to come in from Australia of a new wrinkle in the hit man scam. Cell phone users were now receiving text messages with the same basic fraud in place. The messages often read something like this: “Someone paid me to kill you. If you want me to spare you, I’ll give you two days to pay $5,000. If you inform the police or anybody, you will die. I am monitoring you.” If contacted, these scammers would then provide wiring instructions.
The 2009 Annual Report on Internet Crime released by the IC3 on March 12th made special mention of a new spin on the old hit man email scam. In the new complaints, the emails claimed to be sent by a member of an organization with names like “Ishmael Ghost Islamic Group”. The sender claims to have been sent to kill the recipient due to an alleged offense by the victim towards a fellow member of the emailer’s gang. The message says that upon receiving the recipient’s name, another member of the group (claiming to know a member of the victim’s extended family) pleaded for a pardon. The request will be granted if the recipient sends a sum of money (often about $1000) via Western Union or MoneyGram to the UK in order to pay for the migration of an Islamic expatriate to the United States. The recipient is usually given a deadline in the area of 72 hours to complete the required action or it is threatened their life will be forfeit.
As with the other scams, no details are provided about the recipient in this version of the hit man scam. This tell-tale sign, a lack of personal information, is the next step the scammers are looking to conquer as the con evolves. Depending on where they purchased their email list, the spamming scammers have begun to target specific groups and including details which give the fraudulent messages a more personal tone. For example, if the scammers purchased a list of dentists’ email addresses, the email from the “hit man” would mention the dentist’s profession and use knowledge of the industry to appear more legitimate.
If you receive an email in the vein of these hit man scams it can be quite frightening, but before panicking re-read the message carefully. Are there any details provided about you? Is your name, address or profession mentioned? If there are details shared that lead you to believe it might be valid, contact the local authorities and turn it over to them. If there is no personal information, you can chalk this up as a scam and report it to the IC3. Most likely, the only thing in danger of falling victim to the sender is your wallet.
To report a scam email to the Internet Crime Complaint Center –