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Authorities investigate online 'hitman' scams

Story Highlights

• Authorities have now received more than 1 million complaints about cyber fraud
• The "hitman" e-mail scam makes a death threat against the recipient
• One recipient who received that scam notified the FBI
From Dan Lothian
CNN
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BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Peter McGlothin didn't know what to think when he first got the e-mail with a bounty on his head.

"[It] is a pity that this is how your life is going to end," the e-mail said.

The e-mailer, describing himself as a hitman, said one of McGlothin's "friends" put out a contract on his life and that people were monitoring his movements.

But the e-mailer offered to cut him a deal: Cough up $30,000 and McGlothin would be left alone. Ignoring the e-mail's threat to "not contact police," McGlothin went to the FBI. (Watch what made e-mail recipient nearly fall off his chair Video)

Authorities say McGlothin is not alone. The FBI has received more than 100 complaints about the so-called "hitman scam" from across the country. Typically, the cyber shakedown seeks anywhere from $30,000 to $80,000.

FBI special agent James Burrell says some people have fallen for the scam, sending criminals tens of thousands of dollars. The FBI says they have some leads in the case, but they wouldn't provide specific details.

Burrell said tracking suspects is difficult because it's a borderless crime believed to be originating overseas.

"They can basically commit these offenses from anywhere in the world," he said.

Indeed, cyber crimes like the "hitman scam" are on the rise.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center -- a joint project between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center -- announced last week it has now received more than 1 million consumer complaints about alleged cyber fraud since it was formed in May 2000. Of those, more than 460,000 criminal complaints have been referred to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

The scams have resulted in the loss of an estimated $647 million, or roughly $270 per complaint, according to the crime complaint center.

There are reports of identity theft, including loss of personal identifying data, unauthorized use of credit cards or bank accounts, along with various swindles like the "hitman scam," according to the center.

The "hitman scam," which first came to the FBI's attention in December last year, even spawned a second, reinforcing scam, that claimed to be from the FBI office in London. In that e-mail, it said somebody was recently arrested for the murders of several people in the United States and Britain regarding "hits" against people. The recipient, the e-mail said, was the next person on the list to be killed and they should reply to help with the investigation.

In McGlothin's case, the e-mail instilled fear in him, even though he suspected it was a hoax. For a few days, the usually calm and confident legal secretary kept looking over his shoulders. And while he mostly brushed off the warning to always be home by 7 p.m., one night he got a real scare.

"I was home at about 7:15, the doorbell rang and I almost fell on the floor," he said.

It was a false alarm.

McGlothin never fell for the scam, because as the FBI points out, the e-mail was mostly generic. There was nothing specific to him, not even his address.

However, that's not always the case. The FBI says at least one e-mailer got a second e-mail listing personal details -- his work address, marital status and daughter's full name.

"TELL ME NOW ARE YOU READY TO DO WHAT I SAID OR DO YOU WANT ME TO PROCEED WITH MY JOB?" the e-mail said, according to the FBI.

McGlothin says he's speaking out so that others won't become victims of a dangerous Internet scam.

"This is not acceptable," he said. "This is really stepping over the line."


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The FBI says it's fielded more than 100 complaints of "hitman scams" from across the country.

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