Watch out for email scams, warns British Embassy

Email based scams are becoming increasingly common, targeting British nationals overseas and in UK

Email scams that try to con expatriate residents out of large amounts of money are becoming increasingly common and sophisticated, the British Embassy warned today (Monday 13 Feb).

 Consular staff are receiving a growing number of calls from British nationals who have received emails asking for urgent funds to be sent to help friends or families in distress. In fact the emails are criminal scams designed to persuade victims to hand over large amounts of money.

“We are warning expatriate residents to be on the lookout for unexpected emails from friends or family members who appear to be in distress” said Dave Thomas, Consular Director for Southern Europe. “These emails are often not what they appear to be. You should check by telephone or a method other than email before sending any money.”

One scam that has become common involves someone hijacking an email account to send worrying messages to friends, family and other email contacts, asking for urgent funds to be sent.  

To hijack the email account, the scam operator first sends an email to the account holder which appears to be from their email or internet service provider, asking them for their email login and passwords. The message often includes a threat that failure to comply could lead to the suspension of the account.

Once the hijacker has obtained the login details, they then send an email to the account holder´s friends and family asking for money. The email often tells a story of a friend of family member who has apparently been robbed of all their belongings, cash and mobile phones.  

This scam email was sent from the hijacked account of a British national: “I am writing this with tears in my eyes. I came down here to Murcia in Spain for a short vacation and I was robbed at gunpoint last night on my way to the hotel where I lodge. All cash, credit cards and mobile phone were stolen from me but luckily for me I still have my passports with me. I’ve been to the embassy and the police here are not helping issues at all and my flight leaves shortly from now bit I’m having problems settling the hotel bill and the hotel manager won’t let me leave until I settle the bills. I am so confused at the moment… I need urgent help.”

If you reply to such an email you may receive further details of the alleged incident and a request to send money urgently to allow your family member or friend to check out of their hotel, buy flights home or pay for hospital treatment.  

This is a real example of a follow-up scam email:  “I just got your email, I really do not have email access, I have stayed days here visiting the Red Cross Organization everyday hoping that I could get clearance and some funds could be released to us so we can go on flight back home, I am really happy to read that you are willing to loan me some money, I will be happy if you can loan me $1000, I will pay you back right as soon as I'm back home, I promise. If you wire the money today, I will be on flight back home tomorrow so by Monday or Tuesday I will get the money back to you, Please let me know if this is possible for you so I can email you the wiring instructions. Thank you so much for your kindness.”

What to do

If you receive an email that asks for information about your email account or password, it may be a scam and you should not respond. Instead check with your email or internet service provider directly by telephone or through their website. Your email service provider can then advise if the information request is genuine. Avoid using your email account to check, since the email address that appears to belong to the service provider may not be genuine.

If you receive an email that asks for money, use the telephone or other means to contact the person who appears to have sent it, or a member of their family. Don’t respond by email or provide your own contact details or personal information, as you are likely to be replying straight to the person who has hijacked the email account.

Dave Thomas said:  “Unfortunately there are people out there who try to rip off expatriates and Britons in the UK through these email scams. Our advice is to be wary of any emails asking for your account information, or for money. They are unlikely to be genuine. Check first with your service provider or your friend or family member, and avoid falling into a trap.”

British Consulates can offer to help contact friends or relatives in the event that emergency funds are needed, and can assist people who have been victims of crime. For more details of how your nearest British Consulate can help, go to the ukinspain website atvictims of crime or


For more information contact:

Simon Montague / James Birkett

Press Office

British Embassy Madrid

            917 146 363       / 364



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