Aug. 2–NEWBURYPORT — An e-mail sent to hundreds of locals asking for financial help for a Newburyport priest is a hoax, but such scams are becoming increasingly common, and many people are falling for them.
The Rev. Paul Berube of the Immaculate Conception Parish was quite confused earlier this week when he started receiving calls and e-mails asking if he were OK and where money could be sent.
In the world of cyberspace and frequent scams, it didn’t take the senior priest in residence long to figure out he had fallen victim.
“Apparently some hacker got into my Hotmail account and got ahold of the 450 names in my address book,” he said. “They sent out a letter saying I was in London and I needed funds to get back home.”
Though it is the first time Newburyport police have seen anything specifically targeting Berube, the scams are all too common, said Inspector Brian Brunault, who targets computer crime.
“This type of scam is very common, in the sense that someone is in need of help, they need money to assist them, and they wish to have the money transferred by Western Union,” Brunault said. “These types of e-mails especially prey on the elderly who have access to computers, but with limited knowledge.”
Berube’s e-mail, sent from his account, says he is currently traveling in Europe as part of a program called “Empowering Youth to Fight Racism, HIV/AIDS and Lack of Education Program.”
The letter went on to say he would be traveling through three major countries in Europe and had misplaced his wallet containing all his money and valuables.
The hacker then asked for a “soft loan,” so Berube could get home and provided a London address where money could be wired to via Western Union.
“I have been getting so many calls,” Berube said. “Most people are caught between the head and the heart; the heart wants to help but the head knows I’m not doing anything in London.”
These scams often work.
“It’s awful,” Newburyport Lt. Richard Siemasko said. “People that you don’t think would fall for them do.”
As soon as Berube realized the scam, he contacted local authorities.
“I have been on the phone with Hotmail for four days,” Berube said. “The problem is you never talk to human beings so it’s taken me that long to straighten things out.”
Last night, e-mails went out from the real Berube explaining the situation and assuring his friends and parishioners he is all right.
“It’s amazing really how many people were caught between heart and head,” Berube said. “I got an e-mail from a man whose wedding I celebrated more than 10 years ago who was in London on business. He asked for my hotel address so he could come pay my bill.”
Berube said the next few days will be spent finding a new server for his e-mail, but he is glad people are aware of the scam and hopes no one else is a victim.
“I am sorry to all these people that this happened,” Berube said. “I even left a message on my answering machine. I appreciate everyone’s concern.”
Brunault said people should be wary of such e-mails, even if they appear to be asking for help for someone they know.
“Everything on the Internet should be suspect unless you know the person you are dealing with, possibly through phone calls, in person or through mutual friends and family,” he said. “If you didn’t ask for it, you don’t need it — delete it.”
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Source: The Daily News of Newburyport