FOLLY BEACH --- Scammers on Friday hacked Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin's e-mail account, and sent out phony pleas for an emergency loan.
"I'm presently in London, United Kingdom with my Family for a short vacation and we're stuck... We were attacked by four armed robbers on our way back to the hotel where we lodged. We were robbed and completely embarrassed," states the fake email message that was distributed via the mayor's account.
Goodwin, who is at home and not at all near Europe, said Friday he hopes no one actually sent money to the unidentified perpetrators of the scam.
He said the hackers also wiped out his address book, and set up his email so that anyone who tried to respond to him was actually emailing the scammers.
The email account was a bellsouth.net account. Authorities have been notified and a computer tech was working to restore Goodwin's email account, the mayor said.
"All my email is being forwarded back to them," he said of the scammers. "The worse thing is they store all my contacts, I can't email them to tell them this is not true," Goodwin said.
Jim Nicklaus, a Folly Beach resident and Goodwin family friend, said he realized the message he received from Goodwin's email address was a fake, and tried to email Goodwin about it. The scammers actually received Nicklaus' reply, and responded with an even more urgent appeal for money to be wired to an address in London.
"I have nothing left on me right now. I am lucky to have my life and passport safe. All I need now is $1,400," the response Nicklaus received said. He said he was aware of the scam from the start.
"I knew something was up, but a lot of people who live out of town don't know if Tim is in Europe," Nicklaus said.
Goodwin said he learned of the hacking on Friday morning when his home and cell phone got busy with calls from friends concerned that the email was genuine.
The fake email begins with, "I'm writing this with great grievance," and then begs the recipient to loan a stranded traveler some money. "All our cash, credit cards and cell phone were stolen. Please, I need you to loan some money. I promise to refund you as soon as I'm back home."
Goodwin said he doesn't know if there's a connection, but months ago he received a similar, fake, email from a relative in Atlanta.
A number of web pages contain warnings and information about online scams, including the "I've been mugged while overseas" hoax.
This information comes from www.lastminutetravel.com/blog/index.php/2010/01/08/travel-scam-alert-your-friend-was-not-mugged/:
"A friend sends you a desperate email from overseas. They've been mugged and are asking for your help so they can pay their bills and get a flight back home. The email is coming from your friend's account, and it does sound legit, but you didn't even know your friend was on vacation. Be careful before sending cash, you're this far from becoming the victim of the latest internet scam."
The web page continues: "In the latest trend, scammers have been hacking their way into web based email accounts (like Hotmail, Yahoo, and Gmail) by guessing a user's password. They then send out a 'cry for help' email to everyone in the address book. The hope is that someone can be convinced into sending cash using a wire service."