ALBERTON -- P.E.I. Tourism and Culture minister Robert Henderson is NOT stranded in Manila, Philippines and, therefore, he is not soliciting for donations for getting home.
Henderson’s cell phone started buzzing around 8 a.m. Tuesday, right around the time people in the contacts list of his personal email started receiving a tale of woe.
Supposedly, he lost his wallet while sightseeing in Manila and his hotel was withholding his passport until he could cover his accommodations expense. He would pay back the $2,000 he needed as soon as he got home.
There was, of course, no truth to the email and it didn’t originate from the provincial cabinet minister. In fact, he was en route to Charlottetown for his regular Tuesday morning cabinet meeting when his phone started buzzing.
Henderson quickly concluded that someone had hacked into his private email account.
More troubling than the fake message, though, was the realization that the hacker had emptied his email account’s address book.
“It’s a rather helpless feeling, I guess, is the best way to put it,” said Henderson of his inability to warn his 900 to 1000 contacts about the scam.
IT experts were trying to recover his email list.
“It’s quite an inconvenience to those individuals,” he acknowledged. “I hope everybody understands (it’s a scam) and hopefully nobody gets caught up in any kind of a problem here.”
Henderson said response from recipients was swift. “I’ve had probably 50 phone calls,” he said.
“The positive side is people do seem to be legitimately concerned for the welfare of their MLA.” At least one person apparently responded to the email, and Henderson suspects that was not a good thing to do.
It’s a rather helpless feeling, I guess, is the best way to put it - Tourism and Culture Minister Robert Henderson
Sergeant Andrew Blackadar, the RCMP’s media relations officer, shares that suspicion.
“A lot of times people who are out there running these scams do just want to bait somebody into replying so that they get an extra email address to use, maybe, for fraudulent activities down the road,” Blackadar said.
He advises anyone who receives such malicious emails to delete them immediately. “Then go right into the trash and delete it out of their trash, shut their computer down and start the computer up again to get it out of the cache memory and, just do not reply to it; just completely ignore it and that should hopefully work.”
In Henderson’s case, the email contained a home phone number and cell phone number that were very close to his actual numbers. Blackadar said that’s intended to trick concerned individuals into responding by email when the phone number doesn’t work. Once email contact is established, the scammer might ask the sender to quietly transfer money by Western Union to an address in Manila, he suggested. It would not be Henderson collecting at the other end, though.
Police do pursue such cases, but Blackadar admits things get complicated when the scams originate in countries with which Canada does not have cooperation agreements.