Don’t Get Taken on a Holiday Phishing Expedition

GettyImages-533726355Ah, the holidays. A time of joy, reflection, and often, missives expected and surprising, from locales far and near.

I have unexpectedly received just such a missive, and shared it below, with commentary I hope you will find helpful.

personal memo

  • Return address

For starters, the envelope containing this delightful letter said it was from Manulife Financial, a legitimate company. In Canada, not Hong Kong.

The address of Mr. Lee’s unnamed investment bank is 9 Wing Hong Street, Cheung Sha Wan, Kowloon, Hong Kong. A quick search of Google Maps reveals that this is the location of a building known as the Global Gateway Tower. This property is managed by Henderson Property Agency Limited, which has not updated the property’s Web site since 2014. Hmm.

  • Email address

Mr. Lee, the letter’s putative author, apparently has no work email, as the “private email address” he provided to me is

  • Logo

As for the letter itself, it never states the name of the investment bank that employs its author, Andy Lee. But it does have a logo—one that closely resembles an inverted version of the logo of Toronto Dominion Bank. Another Canadian institution not based in Hong Kong.

  • Incorrect name

Also, he was apparently too excited to get my name completely right. It’s correct on the envelope, but the letter’s header says that it’s a “personal memo for Michael Dalton.” Not quite my name, but close. And the inside salutation? “Dear Michael E.” Which is my correct middle initial, a matter of public record.

  • False information

According to the letter, my relative, James Dortch, was an engineer and co-owner of Jameson & Erikson Electric Inc., “a Hong Kong based [sic] Private Electricity Company,” before he “died intestate in a ghastly car crash.” There is no such company, according to Google Search. And while Mr. Lee writes that “[a]ll efforts made by our bank to locate his relatives have been unsuccessful,” my cousin James is very much alive—you can easily find him on Facebook.

  • The mega-rich relative I never knew about

Nonetheless, Mr. Lee claims that James Dortch left an account containing “sums up to USD$47.5 Million United States Dollars” with “an open beneficiary status.”

Further, Mr. Lee asserts that if I will simply contact him, he will set the wheels in motion to make it possible for me to claim my late relative’s multi-million-dollar legacy. For his work “from the inside to make sure all needed information and evidences are provided” to back up my claim, Mr. Lee would receive 50 percent of that $47.5 million, and I’d get the rest. All I have to do is email Mr. Lee with a number at which he can call me to initiate the claims process.

Upon reflection, I believe I will forego Mr. Lee’s generous offer. And if you or anyone you know gets a letter like this, during the holidays or at any other time, you should, too. It took me about seven minutes of cursory online research to confirm that this is a really badly done attempt at phishing. But I have no doubt at least someone reading this right now knows someone who has fallen or almost fallen for a similarly transparent scam.

Stay vigilant!

The holidays are a great time for giving, and receiving. Just make sure you investigate every invitation you receive, and only give what you want to those you know. And if someone sends you an invitation such as the one I received, keep your holidays happy. Tell them politely but firmly to “go phish”—elsewhere.