Blind fury

Computer scam victim Anne Fairhurst
Computer scam victim Anne Fairhurst

A WIGAN charity chief has spoken of her shock and disgust after hackers stole her identity in a brazen bid to fleece friends and good causes.

Hundreds of people and organisations were e-mailed by someone masquerading as Anne Fairhurst, secretary of Wigan and District Society for the Blind.

The brief but alarming message claims that she has been mugged while on holiday in Spain, that she has been left without cash, cards and her mobile and that the hotel manager in Madrid won’t let her leave to catch her imminent return flight until she settles her bills.

Anyone inquiring further then gets another e-mail urging them to wire over money - amounts requested have ranged from £1,250 to $2,500 - to her name via Western Union and that she will reimburse her saviour on her return to Britain.

But the real Mrs Fairhurst, who has never been to Spain and doesn’t even have a passport, was today at home in Kitt Green with telecommunications engineers trying to work out how this scam had been set up.

She is particularly angry that her and the society’s good names have been used in an attempt to trick family, friends and even charities such as the RNIB and Macular Degeneration Society into handing over their hard-earned cash for a bogus rescue bid.

And BT today issued a computer security warning in a bid to stave off further deceptions.

Mrs Fairhurst said: “This is a horrible intrusion - like someone coming into your house - and I am appalled that someone would stoop so low as to try to con people, including other charities, out of money in my name.

“Someone had hacked into both my personal and charity e-mails, wiped everything out of my inbox and favourites and sent out at least 350 of these bogus messages.

“The first I knew of it was when I got a call from a friend who knew I wasn’t abroad saying he had got one of these e-mails and that I might be caught up in a scam. He advised me to get onto BT straight away.”

After some engineering magic and a password change Mrs Fairhurst has been told that she shouldn’t have any more trouble and that follow-up e-mails will be sent to recipients of the scam mail telling them that it was such.

But the episode has still left her shaken. She said: “I don’t want anything to happen that damages the reputation of what is a 150-year-old charity in Wigan.

“And it is not at all nice having your identity hijacked. I am still none the wiser as to how they got the details they needed to do this either.”

A BT spokesman said that investigations into how the attempted con was executed were at an early stage, but he added: “It is absolutely appalling that someone should be trying to trick charities and members of the public out of money.

“We do not know how Mrs Fairhurst’s details were obtained but we would always issue a general warning that people be very, very wary of divulging information about themselves unless they have complete confidence as to who they are.”

Close examination of the letters from Mrs Fairhurst does itself raise suspicions. The phone number under her name and title is incorrect (although most of the numbers are right) and certain Americanisms appear such as “cell phone” instead of mobile and “vacation” rather than holiday.