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!