Wednesday, January 25, 2012


I received an email yesterday purporting to be from a high school friend with whom I had made contact again about a year ago on Facebook. Let’s call him Tommy Hilfiger (not his real name, although there could be, I suppose, a person somewhere in the world actually named Tommy Hilfiger, but the chances are slim). For purposes of illustration, all email addresses in the following exchanges have been changed. The original email I received read as follows:

Date: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 9:03 AM
From: Tommy Hilfiger
Subject: My AwFul Trip Help...............Tommy Hilfiger
Size: 5 KB

I’m writing this with tears in my eyes, Sorry I did not inform you about my trip. I actually made a quick trip to London and unfortunately attacked and mugged at gun point on the way to my hotel,all cash,credit card and cell were stolen off me but luckily I still have my passport with me.

I’ve been to the embassy and the Police here but they’re not helping issues at all and my return flight leaves anytime from now but I`m having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won't let me leave until I settle the bills.

I need your urgent help am freaked out


My first reaction was, “Poor guy.” My almost immediate second reaction was, “The facts could even be real, but this could be from the thief/mugger himself in an attempt to rip off Tommy’s friends as well.” I wasn’t born yesterday. Far from it.

Right off the bat I knew I wasn’t going to send Tommy any money because, let’s face it, I don’t have any money to send.
I am not without compassion, however, and still believing it could be Tommy (although I had my doubts) I sent a reply just before I left home for the weekly staff meeting at church. It looked like this when I checked my Sent Mail folder later in the day:

Date: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 10:32 AM
Cc: Tommy Hilfiger
Subject: Re: My AwFul Trip Help...............Tommy Hilfiger
Size: 2 KB

I’m on my way out the door to a meeting, but here’s my advice:


Contact your Credit Card issuers immediately to have them cancel your accounts and send new cards to you there so you can pay your hotel bill. At least you have a place to stay until they arrive. Maybe the Embassy can assist you in doing this.


Rhymes W. Plague
(not my real name either, although there could be, I suppose, a person somewhere in the world actually named Rhymes W. Plague, but the chances, like my own svelte self, are slim)

When my meeting at the church was over, I called Mrs. RWP to tell her I was on my way home, and she said, “Your friend wants you to send him money. Don't sent him any money,” and I replied, “I don't intend to. It’s probably a scam attempt from some con artist. It’s not really from Tommy at all.”

When I arrived home, I read the second email from “Tommy”:

Date: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 10:59 AM
From: Tommy Hilfiger
Subject: Re: My AwFul Trip Help...............Tommy Hilfiger
Size: 10 KB

Glad you replied back, I have nothing left on me right now but am very lucky to have my life and passports with me, it would have been worst if the muggers had made away with my passports.

I think is a good idea to contact my credit card comepany but the hotel manager has made me understand that there credit card machine is faulty so all i need now is $1,520 USD, You can have it wired to my name via any Western Union Outlet around you..... I’ll have to show my passport as ID to pick it up here and i promise to pay you back as soon as I get back home hopefully today. Here is my info where you will wire the money to:

Name: Tommy Hilfiger
Location: 51 Whitehall London, SW1A 2BX
Country: United Kingdom

As soon as it has been done, kindly get back to me with the western union confirmation number... Let me know if you are heading to the Western Union outlet now.


Well, that was the end of our correspondence. I went back and examined the emails more closely, and I noticed something odd.

The original email said it came from Tommy Hilfiger at, but my reply was routed instead to a with a CC to Tommy Hilfiger at One vowel changed. Hmmmm. Very strange and very slick and likely to be overlooked by the casual reader.

I am not your casual reader.


  1. I suppose the question in my mind would be: 'Why me? Surely Tommy mus have made a few other friends since I knew him in high school?'

    Some of the language looked odd unless it's just me UK eyes. Things like, '...won't let me leave until I settle the bills' and ' my credit card comepany'.

    I'm sure your alma mater taught better grammar and spelling!

  2. I suggest that not only is this not your friend Tommy, (pairs of names are easy to get from yearbooks), but that I'm afraid now you have responded, you may have difficulty shaking him off.

    If you need to, in a month or two when these emails are still coming, I suggest you write (in an 'official' style) that all emails from him are being re-routed to the local police department for initial verification. If he's real, he should be confident that you are about to help him. If not, you won't hear from him again.

    Just a suggestion.

    Has Fred had a similar email?

  3. Ian, I'm thinking either my email list has been hacked or my friend Tommy's email list has been hacked. I know good and well I'm not dealing with the real Tommy here. The fake Tommy is probably in Nigeria.

    Katherine, I know this Tommy is not my Tommy. (I referred to my friend as Tommy Hilfiger because they have the same initials. See also my answer above to Ian.) I also think the world is so full of possible targets for scammers, that when I don't respond or send money, I will be dropped from our would-be scammer's sights quickly and he will pursue another target.

    I did send an email to Fred -- I'm surprised you remember him! -- and asked him to get in touch with T.H. (our mutual friend, not Tommy Hilfiger) and alert him to what is going on.

  4. A common one here. I delete them but never respond.

  5. No you are definitely not your casual reader! Now I am back in England I realise that our trip to New Zealand has severely dented the Pudding fortune. Funds need to be topped up. Taking the idea from your old school friend Tommy could you please help me by wiring say $2000 to me via Western Union? I will be eternally grateful.

  6. Helsie, I delete the obvious ones, too -- for example, the ones from Nigeria saying that they need my help in transferring X million dollars into the U.S. -- but this is the first one I encountered that included the name of someone I know.

    Pudding, your comment reminded me of the one from the college student who wrote home, "No mon. No fun. Your son." He received the following reply: "How sad. Too bad. Your Dad."

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  8. I'm glad your clever and poor ;-)