'Stranded Traveler' Scam Hacks Victims' Emails, Asks Their Contacts For Money

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In "Nightline's" interactions with the con artist, we noticed that when we ignored the scammer's pleas, his emails became increasingly desperate. "Talk to me dear … Act as urgent please! ... Please I beg you in the name of God," one email said.

Wire services don't disclose where your money is picked up and law enforcement almost never pursues these cases so chances are victims will not get their money back.

If victims do send money, the con artists put them on their "sucker list" and hit them with other scams. Sure enough, our "Nightline" producer began receiving new emails phishing for her back account number. This time, we hit "delete."

So how do criminals get your email password so they can get into your email account and attempt to scam your contacts? We asked Cyber security guru Dan Clements, who told us there are four key ways:

1. Trojan programs: If you click on an attachment in an unknown email, it can trigger your computer to download a "Trojan" program that then allows cyber criminals to see every key stroke you make –including your email password.

2. Password breaker program: Often called a "brute force program," this is software bad guys use to try every combination of numbers and letters until they hit on your password.

3. Email addresses used as logons: You know how many websites have you set up an account using your email address as your User ID? If you then use the same password for that account that you use for email, criminals have what they need: your email address and your password.

4. Insider theft: It's less common, but there have been instances where employees at internet companies stole customers' email addresses and passwords from internal servers.

How can you protect yourself?

Don't click on attachments in emails from strangers. Create complex passwords that are random combinations of letters, numbers and symbols and use a different password for each account you create. If a website gives you a choice of using your email address as your User ID or some other ID, choose the alternate.

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