Q. A friend of mine got a strange e-mail apparently from a friend of his who claimed to be traveling in Europe and had been mugged, left stranded, and in need of money to get home. The e-mail asked my friend to send $1,400 through a wire transfer to somewhere in Europe. The e-mail addressed my friend by name and was very ominous. My friend immediately tried calling his friend and learned he was safe and sound and the e-mail was a scam. Several other friends received similar e-mails. Does this happen a lot? Is there anything I can do?

A. Yes, this is definitely a scam. There are two basic versions of this scam. The older version, sometimes called, “The Grandparent Scam,” is where the victim (usually elderly) receives a frantic phone call from someone claiming to be the victim’s grandchild. The caller will typically start the conversation with a generic greeting that is designed to elicit the true name of the victim’s grandchild like, “Hi Grandma, it’s your favorite grandchild.” The victim may respond with the name of one of their grandchildren. Once the caller has the name of a grandchild it is used to the caller’s advantage. The caller tells the victim they are in dire trouble. Typical stories are they are in jail in a foreign country or they have been somehow stranded. They will eventually get to the fact that they need to be wired a large sum of money to bail out of jail or need money to catch a flight home. In some cases during conversations a second suspect is put on the phone who claims to be a public official and gives directions where to send money. This scam can be effective because the calls can be random or phone numbers can be selected that focus on the elderly community. No advance information is needed.

The newer version of this scam, sometimes called the “Emergency Scam” or the “Stranded Scam,” uses dire e-mails apparently sent from friends or family requesting large sums of money be sent quickly. The e-mail will purportedly come directly from a known friend or family member (and their corresponding e-mail address) and generally address the victim by name. The scam e-mails briefly describe, while on vacation in a foreign country, a tragic event or a robbery that has left the friend or family member stranded and in immediate need of money to get home. E-mails usually include information that the friends or family members cell phone was lost or stolen and there is no way to make contact with them. They will always ask for money to be sent and give specific directions how to complete a transaction. This scam usually involves the suspect gaining access into someone’s e-mail account then searching the address book and previously sent items. The suspect then uses the names, e-mail addresses, and information obtained from the account to personalize e-mails specific to the victim. This scam is effective because the information apparently comes from a known and familiar source. The scammer usually tries to include information in the body of the e-mail that require immediate action or discourage the recipient from verifying the authenticity of the information.

To protect yourself from emergency-type scams:

• Don’t panic;

• Verify all calls and e-mails, even from friends, that request money;

• Be skeptical of anyone wanting you to send money, particularly by wire (Western Union) and/or to another country;

• Never volunteer personal information;

• Protect e-mail accounts from unauthorized access by using strong passwords and protect your passwords by changing them often;

• If your e-mail has been compromised, immediately contact your service provider to regain control of your account;

• Watch for grammatical errors, syntax, formality irregularities, and idioms in e-mails that are not consistent with the person who is apparently sending the e-mail.

Scams are constantly changing. Fueled by the Internet and the availability of personal information, we need to take extra steps to protect ourselves from theft. If you are being asked for money or any personal information, you are being scammed. If this has happened to you report the incident to the police and at www.ic3.gov

Q. Around Santa Monica I see parking spaces painted yellow that are marked, “Loading Only.” What are the rules for yellow zones? Can I stop there or are they for delivery trucks only?

A. Yellow zones are established for active loading and unloading only and are generally enforceable (you can get a ticket) from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Under no circumstance is any vehicle to be in a yellow zone more than 15 minutes. Most yellow zones are available for both delivery and private vehicles, but there are a few that are only for commercial vehicles; check the markings on the curb carefully (Santa Monica Municipal Code 3.12.740).

This column was prepared by NRO Adam Gwartz (Beat 5: Montana Avenue to north city limits, Ocean Avenue to 26th Street). He can be reached at (424) 200-0685 or adam.gwartz@smgov.net.

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