NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — From Nigerian email scams to phony sweepstakes, and bogus threats from the IRS there are countless ways crooks might try to steal your money.
But as CBS2’s Dick Brennan found out, none is as scary as the latest scam that threatens people’s lives.
“If I didn’t pay $3,000 by a certain time, members of my family would be murdered,” Dan Masters said.
That was the gist of an ominous email that recently landed in his mailbox.
“They’re words meant to get your attention, and they certainly got mine,” he said.
Especially when it said things like, “you do not know who we are, but we have been tracking you, we know your schedules, we know where you all live, and spend your time.”
“They’re strong words. They’re frightening words,” he said.
At first Masters — an attorney — was baffled as to who would send such a threatening note, but then he took a closer look at the email.
“It didn’t name me, it didn’t name any family members. It had a date that had already passed, and all of these things made me realize that it was more likely a scam,” he said.
He was correct.
“They are all part of what we call extortion scams, trying to get some money from you for a perceived threat,” FBI special agent Bradlee Godshall said.
He said the so-called ‘hit man scam’ is not as lucrative as lottery or sweepstakes scams, but over the last year people have fallen for it to the tune of millions of dollars.
“Extortion scams, just over ten million,” he said.
Former con artist Frank Abagnale who inspired the Leonardo DiCaprio movie ‘Catch Me If You Can’ said things have gotten easier for scammers.
“It’s 4,000 times easier today than when I did it,” he said.
He said we’re actually partly to blame for the proliferation of these scams in recent years.
“We go on social media such as Facebook, we tell people our name, we tell people when we were born, our husband’s names, they have so much information and that is part of the reason why we have all these social scams,” he said.
He’s since teamed up with AARP to help fight this fraud.
“There’s nobody coming after you, there’s no hit man, they’re just trying to intimidate you,” he said.
Joe Giacalone, a retired NYPD sergeant said it only takes a minute to debunk one of these scams.
“The FBI has a website with all this information, the FTC has a website,” he said.
Experts said some of the hit man emails have included information about the target. They recommend not responding as it only shows your account is active, which means you can expect more intimidation attempts.