The “stranded friend scam” is a real classic among scams. Nevertheless, many people still fall for it. Why? And how can you protect yourself? Here are the most important facts.
A good friend contacts you with a desperate cry for help. He has been robbed on a trip abroad and now has neither papers nor money. He begs you to send him money as soon as possible so that he can buy a return ticket and come home again.
Who would hesitate in such a situation and leave their friend hanging? Well, you should. Because your friend is probably fine and doesn’t even know that he is being used for a scam right now.
Strictly speaking, not him, but his email account. Because cybercriminals have gained access to it in order to scam you in his name. The money is usually to be transferred using a money transfer service such as WesternUnion or MoneyGram. Once sent, it is irretrievably lost.
Why does the trick still work?
The “stranded friend” is actually really old scam, but still successful. This is also because the message comes from someone we know. The sender enjoys our trust. Another important factor is the sheer mass of messages. Sending them means hardly any effort for the scammers and even if only a tiny proportion of the recipients pay, the scam is worthwhile.
How can you protect yourself?
In order not to become an ignorant accomplice of this scam yourself, you should protect your own email account well: Change your password often, use a complex password and not the same one for different accounts. And if possible: be sure to use 2-factor authentication!
If you receive such an email, take a close look at the content. Usually there are already signs that something is wrong. Does your old school friend suddenly call you by your first name instead of your nick name? Does he write in faulty German, even though he is a native speaker? And how likely is it that your rather travel-shy friend would travel to South East Asia or Africa, for example? The best way to find out is to contact the sender through another communication channel. Call him or send a WhatsApp or SMS to check the story.
If he is really in trouble, you can always help then.