The “hitman” scam is probably one of the oldest ways that people extorted money on the internet. However, there’s one particular thing that sets it apart from all its brethren: The gravity it presents involves an alleged attempt on the life of the victim. Though it may not seem serious (it counts as junk email after all), this particular unique aspect makes hitman scams something very few people deal with appropriately. It’s important to understand what hitman scams look like, why they’re so effective, and what people can (and should) do about them.
What Is a Hitman Scam?
Imagine you check your inbox one day and find an email from someone who claims to have been hired by someone you know to “take you out.” He seems to know a thing or two about you, giving the narrative some credibility. There’s some hope, though. He says he was already paid half the sum needed to do the job and would gladly spare your life if you give him the other half.
All of this is accompanied by other arguments attempting to induce you to believe you’re in a very grave and real situation, and the payment presents an easy way out. This may compel a vulnerable person to do something they’ll later regret.
What Makes this Different
Hitman scams touch a major weak point in people: Their self preservation instinct. It’s not easy to ignore someone saying that you’re going to die, especially if it’s someone who appears to know details about your life that you may not think are easily accessible. The more eerie the message appears to the victim, the more likely it is that the victim will comply.
They don’t just take the form of emails either. A project known as ScamNet from the Government of Western Australia reports that hitman scams have also started appearing in SMS messages as well. Because of how hard these scams can hit the human psyche, they can also be very successful.
What to Do When a Hitman Scam Reaches You
The typical hitman scam will have a set formula to it. To understand that formula, you must first put yourself in the mind of the scammer. Ideally, you’d want to deliver a credible and clear threat while making sure that the worst-case scenario does not involve any government authorities on your tail.
With this in mind, the so-called “hitmen” will write a long message that reveals some details about you (this is often effective when writing an SMS, as the scammer already reveals that he has the victim’s phone number) and make it a very important point not to call the police.
By all means, if you receive a message like this, do not respond to it. Replying to an email or SMS of this type will inform the scammer that they have a victim that they can press harder. This might even give him an incentive to look deeper and find more information about you, which is particularly dangerous if you live close by.
Scammers like these often don’t go through the effort to find anything valuable about you, and if they do, it’s only superficial stuff like your phone number, the name of a relative you might have published on social media, or something else that might be useful to spook you. Replying encourages some of the harder-working fellows to find ways to crack you hard enough to want to pay them off.
The best thing you can do is ignore the message entirely. Scammers send messages to thousands of people at a time with cookie-cutter emails to get the highest number of victims with the least amount of effort. The only messages they really care about are the ones they receive a reply to. If you don’t reply to the messages, you’re pretty much off their radar.
Just remember, your life really isn’t in danger.
However, if you want to go further than just ignoring the message, contact the authorities in your country (or better yet the scammer’s country if you find it) and forward the email to them. Hitman scams could potentially be treated more harshly by the law as they portray an intent to kill.
The particular vulnerabilities this kind of scam exploits should get as much pushback as possible. The best way to do this is to alert legal authorities so that they can be aware of the fact that this problem exists, and it directs them to find ways to take action against it.
This is one of the instances in which it’s important to try to do your part to ensure that others don’t get hoodwinked because they may feel that their lives truly are in danger.