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“Spear-phishing” hitman scam scaring state residents

January 9, 2007

Quick quiz …Which of these spam e-mails would grab your attention the most?

  • A) A wealthy prince wants to wire you part of a $20 billion fortune,
  • B) Viagra prices at all-time lows,
  • C) I have been paid to KILL you, but will reconsider if you pay me more.

From *GULP* … I vote “C”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports today that several Pittsburgh-area professionals (doctors, lawyers, dentists, etc.) that have received death threats in their e-mail inboxes from a “hitman” that claims he’s been paid by one of your acquaintances to off you for a sum of $40,000.

But, lucky for you, he’s reconsidering his chosen path (like John Cusack in Grosse Point Blank, sans Minnie Driver).

And he will spare your life for a mere $80,000 (with a $20K down payment).

So we know he’s a capitalist!

In the article, the FBI calls this practice “spear phishing,” or the use of spam e-mails to garner money from a very targeted group of people, this time added with a threat of violence.

The Post-Gazette provides a copy of the letter, sent to Dr. Mike Dunn, of Castle Shannon (a Pitt suburb):

Subj: Be safe in this new year
Date: 1/2/2007 4:40:05 A.M. Eastern Standard Time
Reply to:

Good day,

I want you to read this message very carefully, and keep the secret with you till further notice, You have no need of knowing who i am, where am from, till i make out a space for us to see, i have being paid $50,000.00 in advance to terminate you with some reasons listed to me by my employers, its one i believe you call a friend, i have followed you closely for one week and three days now and have seen that you are innocent of the accusation, Do not contact the police or F.B.I. or try to send a copy of this to them, because if you do i will know, and might be pushed to do what i have being paid to do, beside, this is the first time I turned out to be a betrayer in my job.

Now, listen, i will arrange for us to see face to face but before that i need the amount of $80,000.00 and you will have nothing to be afraid of. I will be coming to see you in your office or home determine where you wish we meet, do not set any camera to cover us or set up any tape to record our conversation, my employer is in my control now, You will need to pay $20,000.00 to the account i will provide for you, before we will set our first meeting, after you have make the first advance payment to the account, i will give you the tape that contains his request for me to terminate you, which will be enough evidence for you to take him to court (if you wish to), then the balance will be paid later.

You don’t need my phone contact for now till am assured you are ready to comply good.

Lucky You.

Wait a minute…you said that you were reconsidering, and now your employer is in control? Make up your mind, anonymous hitman spammer!!!

But all joking aside, this has got to be a serious jolt for those unfamiliar with the spam factory e-mails from Nigeria and the like.

From the Post-Gazette article, an FBI agent discusses the e-mail’s spam giveaways:

Anyone who receives that kind of message will at least hesitate for a moment, [FBI Special] Agent [Bill] Shore said.

“You think,” he said, ” ‘What did I get into? What do I gotta do to get out of this?’ ”

But then, he continued, if you look closer, the broken English in the body of the e-mail is a pretty quick giveaway that it’s a scam.

And that’s what Dr. John Sartorio, of Mt. Lebanon, thought when he read the one he received.

“If I were single, I would have deleted it, laughed about it and thought nothing more of it,” he said.

But his wife was concerned and urged him to contact the police.

“With kids, you always want to be more safe than sorry,” he said.

The article ends by recommending anyone who receives a death-threat spam e-mail to report it to Good idea.

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