The holidays are here, and that means that more people are travelling for their vacations. We thought this would be a good time to remind you about a popular online scam designed to trick you into thinking that your friend is in trouble on vacation.

When cybercriminals break into someone’s email or social networking account, they might send emails or post messages pretending to be that person. One fairly common email tries to make your friends and contacts believe that you are in trouble, often in a foreign country, and you need them to send you money.

Here’s a message that I received from a colleague a few weeks ago:

I hope you get this on time, I made a trip to Edinburgh Scotland, and had my bag stolen from me with my passport and personal effects therein. The embassy has just issued me a temporary passport but I have to pay for a ticket and settle hotel bills. I’ve made contact with my bank but it would take me days to access funds in my account from Edinburgh, I need you to lend me some funds to cover these expenses. I can give back to you as soon as I get in.

I can be reached by email, as I lost my phone in the robbery and don’t have access to a phone at the moment.

If you are getting emails like this, it probably means that your friend was hacked. Delete the email or report it. If you use Hotmail, you can use the My friend’s been hacked tool to report it. To do this, select the email, point to Mark as and select My friend’s been hacked.

If people on your contact list are getting emails like this, it probably means that someone has stolen or guessed the password to your email account and your email address has been hijacked.

What to do if your friends are getting email messages that appear to come from you:

  • If you can still get into your email account, sign in and change your password.
  • If you can’t sign in, check the help file of your email provider. You can probably use additional information that you provided when you signed up in order to reset your password.