I just spent the last three days unnerved–actually, really frightened– locking my doors and windows, hiding in my home and office, and worrying about “what ifs.”  The source of my anxiety was an e-mail that arrived in my husband’s office  e-mail,  initiated by someone who called himself “The Contractor.”   He claimed that a “friend” had contracted to pay $50K to assassinate my husband in a way that no one would suspect. 

Having had an attack of conscience, he
offered to call off the “hit” for the sum of $70,000.  Unlike the typical scam, the English was perfect, the writer seemed to know details about us and it did not require us to respond.  It forbad contact with police, FBI or any authority and promised the assassination would be carried out if my husband did not follow the instructions explicitly.   

It closed with the caution that we should do as we were told or spend the rest of our lives looking over our shoulders wondering when it would happen. The Contractor wrote, “I’ll be in touch within 72 hours and I expect the first $20,000 at that time.”  We’re good Internet researchers, but we couldn’t find any references to this type of scam.  The anxiety rolled over us.

We called our local police department, and the chief responded to the call.  At the time, he believed there wasn’t anything they could do; the next day, though, he requested that my husband file a police report that they would use to execute a search warrant on Google.  The website.  A search warrant on Google!  

I didn’t sleep well the first night but moved the next morning to DEFCOM 1, which means “Defense Readiness Commission,” if you  haven’t seen a recent sci-fi movie where aliens attack the White House.  Just as a point of reference, 911 put the U.S. at DEFCOM 3 and the Cuban Missile Crisis at DEFCOM 2.  As a nation, we have never been at DEFCOM1, but I’m personally there now.

For starters, I’m angry at myself for worrying about this nonsense and being unable to shed that inner voice that says, “But what if this is real?"  My husband jokes that he feels slighted that The Contractor would get only a lousy $50,000 for putting him down.  But what kind of person gets their jollies at this level?  Then I remembered all of the “greed” scams that sit in my junk/deleted box and a cold chill ran down my back.  If there are thousands of people taken in by the Nigerian Scam, how much more powerful would this approach be to that same target market?


I know my mother.  I am surrounded by people who love their families deeply and without reservation.  If my mother were to receive this type of message and it threatened her life she would share it with me and I could easily dissuade her.  BUT, if the message threatened me, my sisters or any one of her grandchildren, she would empty her bank accounts, sell all that she owns and tell no one for fear that harm would befall a loved one.  The prospect is terrifying. 


I have a college degree.  My husband graduated from Stanford Law School with honors, and yet we bought into this scam emotionally.  Our web-savvy intellects couldn’t control our fears.  Tyler Clementi is dead after being humiliated by web postings of his intimate relationship with another man and the students responsible are being charged with invasion of privacy.  Senator Lautenberg, D-NJ suggested that “Colleges should adopt a code of conduct that prohibits bullying and harassment…”   Will a threat of expulsion fix this problem?  Our children are committing suicide because of the powerful emotional stigma imposed on them by their social networks—Facebook, Twitter, and the rest.  Seniors’ savings are being drained by scammers who promise windfalls.  And now the web has become the grim reaper.


The Internet is where I spend my entire work day.  It’s where I shop, and it’s where I find virtually all of the information that I need for the articles, books, and seminars I write.  But there are corners of the web where evil thrives.  I do not believe in killing mosquitoes with cannons and I can think of no way that the web can be adequately monitored or controlled that does not also restrict freedom.


9/11 occurred while I was consulting out of town.  I watched the events unfold from my hotel room.  I couldn’t get a flight out so I rented a car and drove all night to get to the safety of my own home.  In the middle of the night, exhausted, driving on a dark, deserted road, the enormity of what had just happened hit me and I began to sob uncontrollably.  I’d lost my innocence.  That’s how I felt two nights ago:  My life had been invaded.

This scam is just as deadly and could have consequences equally tragic.  It makes people afraid and desperate; the stress, anxiety, depression, panic and fear could cause a stroke, heart attack or other serious illness.  It can literally frighten someone to death.  It will be the fear--not the hit man, not The Contractor--that pulls the trigger. 

I need you to help me alert those around you about the existence of this scam.  I did not include the actual e-mail because it is so chilling.  Please send this alert to everyone you know and ask them to do the same.  Just send this link www.greatplacesinc.com/KathyChat/.  And thank you!



Posted by: Kathy Harmon on 10/5/2010 | 0 Comments

In response to the travel blog from southern Europe and the Sahara the Deters gave us last week,  I have received e-mails from other friends about their favorite travel destinations.  Marsha and I have known each other since we were 13.  She is a dear friend and a real travel buff.  Marsha and her husband, Paul, are fearless adventurers and, I suspect, enjoy the planning beforehand and the reminiscing upon their return as much as the trip itself.  Here she tells us about a walking, sailing, touring combination they put together for a trip through South America. 


My husband and I love to travel.  It is expensive and time is precious so we plan carefully.  We order travel company brochures, browse the travel section at the library and surf the web.  We travel as frequently as our schedules allow.  One of my favorite excursions was to Argentina and Chile. We wanted to go to Buenos Aires, see the Patagonian landscape, and travel by small boat around Cape Horn.  We decided to spend some time in Buenos Aires on our own and spent time with a tour group

We loved South America.  Buenos Aires is extremely European in its architecture with lovely buildings and wide streets.  The city is divided into distinctive areas.  One is San Telmo with a huge flea market and antique sale every Sunday.  We spent an entire day watching couples doing the tango, mimes, men on stilts, and browsed hundreds of small booths filled with crafts, antiques and eating great food cooked in tiny stalls.

Then we were off to Patagonia which is the southern part of Argentina and Chile.  The landscape is breathtaking.  We saw the Perito Merino glacier, which is so huge that it holds one third of the world’s fresh water supply!  We hiked through the Torres del Paine mountain area in Chile.  The climate in this area of Chile is notoriously variable and the views of the mountains change continually.  Sometimes they are draped in clouds, sometimes bathed in sun or you might find yourself suddenly bracing against huge gusts of wind.    

In Chile we boarded a small ship that accommodates 120 passengers which sailed us around Cape Horn.  The water around Cape Horn is the roughest in the world with hundreds of ships having gone down in last few hundred years.  I can only imagine what it was like to be the first seamen to successfully navigate around the cape.  We found it thrilling. The ship stopped at Tucker Island where we were greeted by penguins, sea elephants, dolphins, South American flamingos, condors and an amazing collections of unusual birds.  In the photo below our ship is on the left.  It is one of the tiny specs a few hundred feet from the shoreline.   With only 120 passengers our little ship was able to sail much closer to the gkacier and gave us some unbelievable photo opportunities. 

We found South America to be quite inexpensive.  We had a wonderful hotel room in central Buenos Aires that came with a buffet breakfast for $112.00 (US dollars) per night.  Restaurant food was reasonable.  A person could eat a full meal for $10.00 to $15.00 (US dollars).  Wine enthusiasts know that Argentina and Chile have developed some very good wines.  Local wines are excellent and reasonably priced between five and six dollars a bottle.  South America was everything we had hoped it would be – amazing scenery, intriguing wild life and great food.  For your next adventure we highly recommend it!

Marsha Theis


“Marsha Very Wearable Art”

A clothing line that is both whimsical and beautiful

I am a huge proponent of volunteerism.  For the past few years, one of the organizations to which I belong, has participated in Hearts and Hammers.  It is sort of a mini-Extreme Makeover.  The Hearts and Hammers organization interviews needy homeowners who, for financial or physical reasons, cannot manage the upkeep of their home.  One Saturday morning each September 40+ volunteers descend on their assigned home and completely repair and paint the exterior and totally re-landscape the yard of a chosen recipient.    Hearts and Hammers has concentrated on two blighted neighborhoods in our community for the past two years and the transformation is beginning to have a dramatic impact.  I thought you might enjoy viewing the video from last week’s event.  When we began it was raining and cold.  We’d brought spare siding, plants and paint but the 100 year old home needs far more than we had anticipated. 


I dedicate a couple of hours each week to give back to my community and my church for all that they have given to me.  I strongly encourage you to do the same.  I guarantee you will be given back far more than you give, you will feel a joy that comes with almost no other gift giving and you will set an example for other family members, neighbors and especially your children and grandchildren.  As a matter of fact, take them with you.  If you can’t find an organization that appeals to you, call nursing homes, hospitals or just start your own!


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