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Latest email scam preys on curiosity over purported death

Gary Priester considers himself to be pretty savvy when it comes to protecting himself against unwanted email scams.

That includes employing an anti-spam filter that allows him to screen all his email in one spot before any of it reaches his personal computer.

But even he admits he was tempted by what appears to be a brand-new scam that preys upon one’s curiosity upon learning – falsely – that a friend or relative has passed away.

“I’m pretty skeptical about stuff like that, especially when I get personal email … but I almost clicked that thing,” the Placitas resident told the Journal last week.

If Priester had “clicked that thing” – a link that purportedly would have provided him with additional information about his friend’s “farewell ceremony” – he could have infected his computer with malware and possibly opened the door for scam artists to rummage through his personal information.

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As it turns out, Priester is one of a least two area residents who have received one of these fake funeral email notices from “Eubank Funeral Home & Cremation Services” in the past few weeks, complete with an official-looking logo.

Merilee Dannemann of Albuquerque, who also resisted the temptation to follow the link, was kind enough to provide the Journal with the copy of her email. This is what it said:

“For this unprecedented event, we offer our deepest prayers of condolence and invite you to be present at the celebration of your friends (sic) life service on Thursday, February 6, 2014 that will take place at Eubank Funeral Home at 11:00 a.m.

“Please find invitation and more detailed information about the farewell ceremony here” – with the word “here” being a hyperlink to what turns out to be a third-party website hosting the dreaded malware.

For Dannemann, the immediate urge to learn more about her “friend” was quickly replaced by a strong sense of “something is wrong with this.”

For starters, she said, she thought she knew the names of all the funeral homes in Albuquerque – and the Eubank Funeral Home wasn’t one of them. She also was troubled that the email did not contain the funeral home’s address or phone number.

And there was one more thing: “If a person had died, how would this funeral home have had my email address?” she asked.

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“I guess I have enough experience with looking at spam messages and saving myself at the last minute from doing something stupid – and possibly very costly,” she said.

Tom Antram, president and CEO of French Funerals—Cremations in Albuquerque, said word of this scam spread through the funeral home industry earlier this month.

After being notified about it by one of the industry’s national organizations, Antram said, the funeral home shared the information with its staff members so they could pass along the warning to their clients.

Gail Rubin, an Albuquerque-based certified thanatologist and speaker who operates a website called AGoodGoodbye.com, contacted the Journal about this scam after it was brought to her attention by Priester. She then posted an item about it on her blog.

Rubin, who describes herself as “The Doyenne of Death,” said this scam preys on the fears of individuals who know someone who is sick and possibly close to death.

“I think people should be suspicious if no name is associated with the email,” she said. “But given there’s a time crunch and the curiosity factor, people might go ahead and download the link.”

Like Rubin, the Better Business Bureau is also trying to spread the word, issuing a scam alert earlier this month to warn consumers about these bogus emails.

Among its tips to guard against what it described as a “new low” for fraudsters:

  • Don’t believe what you see: As was the case here, it isn’t difficult for scam artists to craft a logo that replicates the official look and colors of a legitimate business.
  • Check the source of the email: You can do this by placing your mouse over the hyperlinked text, which should uncover the true source of the email.
  • Always be wary of unsolicited emails: This is especially true if they contain links or attachments. If you aren’t familiar with the source of the email, then leave the links and files alone.
  • Be alert to poor grammar and spelling: That’s because it’s pretty common for scam emails to be poorly written.
  • Take a deep breath: One of the key goals of scam artists is to get you to do something immediately. Resist the urge.

Nick Pappas is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal and writes a blog called “Scammed, Etc.” Contact him at npappas@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3847 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-800-678-1508.

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