2008-10-31 / Front Page

Despite Email, Not Stranded In Africa

By Nicholas Briano

Many people would find it strange that in the middle of the heated debate and vote on term limits, a city councilmember's top aide would take flight to Nigeria in a diplomatic and humanitarian effort to aid people there.

The fraudulent email sent from Donovan Richard's account saying he was broke and stranded in Nigeria and needed more than $2,000 to return home. The fraudulent email sent from Donovan Richard's account saying he was broke and stranded in Nigeria and needed more than $2,000 to return home. Some, however, were taken in when they received an email, ostensibly from Donavon Richards, the District Manager to Rockaway Councilmember James Sanders, Jr., stating that he did exactly that.

Hundreds of professional contacts, friends, family, and anyone else who may have been on Richard's extensive contact list, including Wave staffers, got a message last week from Richards' email account saying that the young political aide was stranded in Nigeria and needed more than $2000 to get home, a fairly common internet scam with a local twist.

"I am really stranded in Nigeria because I forgot my little bag in the Taxi where my money, passport, documents and other valuable things were kept on my way to the Hotel I am staying, I am facing a hard time here because I have no money on me. I now owe a hotel bill of $1050," the bogus email said.

So how did someone gain access to his email account in order to send this to all his contacts?

Richards says, in retrospect, that he remembers receiving an email just a day before the mass email was sent, pretending to be from the administrators at Hotmail.com, the Microsoft email account network with which Richards registered an email address more than five years ago. That email stated he must respond with his email address, password, date of birth, and country or risk account termination.

Richards, fearful of losing the longtime account and hundreds of professional contacts, quickly replied.

"I got a fraudulent email from hotmail and the next day I couldn't even access my account, Richards said. "They hit every contact on my list. This is a big scam going on and people must be made aware."

The humorous part of it all, Richards said, was that he had just held a press conference the day before at which he saw several of those same people who got the fake email. Richards also added that he got several replies from people that actually wanted to know where to send the money.

"Most people who know me had a feeling this wasn't me sending out the email and called me right away to verify," he said. "But others wanted to help me; I guess you never know how much people love you until something like this would happen."

Since last week's incident Richards has regained complete access to his email account and made sure his first priority was to send an email to everyone on his contact list, an authentic one that is, to assure people he has no immediate plans to visit Africa. He also added that if he does, he will make sure not to lose his wallet along the way.

Despite the humor of his situation, Richards hopes his slight misfortune will alert people in his area that they must safeguard their online accounts from identity thieves who prey on hard working and honest people.

"You must always be careful and make sure you change your passwords regularly, around once a month." he said.

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