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The Wrath of Spam Mail

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This column is by way of a warning.

Last spring I received an email, supposedly from the wife of Maj. Gen. Jack Singlaub, one of America's great soldiers who saved South Korea from being abandoned by then-President Jimmy Carter, who wanted to withdraw all-American troops in 1978.

Singlaub commanded in South Korea and put his body on the line opposing Carter's plan, and was subsequently fired. To every Korean, he is a saviour.

The email I received said the Singlaubs were in London and had been robbed, lost their passports, and their hotel wouldn't help. It also said I could wire money to a Western Union number. I was surprised and concerned, until my son-in-law persuaded me this was likely a scam. I emailed Singlaub for clarification. Indeed it was a scam. On checking, his email identification had a letter reversed, so it was slightly different. A phony.

This week, at around 7 a.m., I had a phone call from a friend saying she'd received an email from me, which read: "I made a trip to Madrid, Spain, and had my bag stolen with my passport, cash and credit cards in it . . . I need you to lend me some money to sort my self out of this predicament . . . . Western Union transfer is the best option . . . you can reach me via email or the Blue Island hotel desk phone 34962463149. I await your response . . . . Peter"

Within a couple of hours, I'd received 20 emails and a dozen phone calls from people who were on my email list and had received the message. Virtually even one recognized it as a scam. My pal Vince Courtenay spotted it as a phony because my purported message started with "Hi" (which I never use) and because "Worthington never gets stranded."

Eddie Greenspan wanted to know (facetiously, I fear) "How much would you like?" Susan Wicks hoped it was a scam, but if it wasn't she would help. I was immensely touched. In Calgary, Garth Pritchard thought it "strange," but if I was truly abandoned in Madrid he'd sell the farm to bail me out. (A bit of an exaggeration, but a noble sentiment.)

While I hoped no one actually sent money (I might need them next time!), what was really upsetting was that all my emails had been deleted, along with some 200 email contacts.

I have to start all over again.

I changed my password, but if 14-year-old kids can hack into the Pentagon computer (we're always reading about such phenoms), they wouldn't have much trouble with my password. My new one is now more complex.

I tried the phone number given for the Blue Island Hotel -- disconnected. A Google search of 639 hotels in Madrid and no Blue Island hotel.

As much as the nuisance of re-building my email addresses and lost emails (Yahoo is useless at offering help -- and they don't believe in phone numbers), a concern is that if my email address was compromised by my message to Gen. Singlaub, every person who sent me emails about whether they should send money to bail me out is also compromised as I was.

Can they now expect in a few months to have people wondering if they've had their luggage stolen and are being asked to send money to some address in London, Madrid or Nigeria? I expect so. It happened to me, so why not to others?

An unpleasant way to make contact with old friends.

I am told a former Canadian chief of defense staff has had this happen to him twice. If you get one of these dunning emails, I suspect the safest thing is not to answer, but to delete the message entirely.

Sorry about that, folks, but next time delete rather then reply.