A tragic tale of cyber crime: This could be your mom

Security firm McAfee showed me a documentary it had commissioned as part of an educational program teaching people about scams that owe more to social engineering than to technology such as stealing passwords.The documentary was made by director Seth Gordon and it tells the story of an elderly lady living in Oregon, Janella Spear, who one day opened an email that said a relative of hers had left a $20.

Security firm McAfee showed me a documentary it had commissioned as part of an educational program teaching people about scams that owe more to social engineering than to technology such as stealing passwords. The documentary was made by director Seth Gordon and it tells the story of an elderly lady living in Oregon, Janella Spear, who one day opened an email that said a relative of hers had left a $20.5 million fortune and that she should claim it. It's an obvious Nigerian "419" scam that we've all seen, but for Ms Spear, there was something true about it. The scammers had traced her genealogy and seemed to know things about her family that she misinterpreted as being trustworthy.

She continued sending money even when it was obvious that it was a scam.

Even when computer security expert, Chris Roberts arrived on her doorstep and showed her other Nigerian scam emails, and patiently explained to her how they were creating fake web sites -- she still held out hope that it was all real.

She eventually did wise up. But only when she had gone through all her and her husband's savings, had taken out two mortgages on their home, plus racked up $200K in credit card debt.

It's a horrific tale and one that must terrify any baby boomer: your mom just sent your inheritance to Nigeria - plus the house, and created $200K of credit card debt.

At least TV preachers usually only get to scam a couple of grand out of elderly people, the Nigerians will create a massive web of complexity targeting just one person that doesn't stop until they've totally cleaned out their mark, and more. It's now called "Spear phishing."

These days Ms Spear has very restricted access to the Internet and her activities have to be monitored constantly; her Yahoo mail account had to be closed because of all the Nigerian emails; she is in counseling because her husband can't trust her; and her kids are upset with her.

And she did it all for all the right reasons, she paved a hellish road of good intentions: she would use the money to help her family (her grandchild has cancer), and her community, and her church (she's a minister.)

This could be your mom. Joe Telafici, VP of Operatins for McAfee Avert Labs, said: "I won't allow my mom to have a computer, I've banned it."

Maybe you should do the same. Mr Telafici knows what can happen, he sees it happen all the time. - - - You will be able to see the video here on this microsite: www.StopHCommerce.com.