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GULLIXSON: Please read this before opening your email

Published: Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 10:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 5:05 p.m.

Dear friends, family and anyone within email range. I just want you all to know that I am not in the Philippines — and I have no plans to be in the Philippines.

Furthermore, I want you to know that if I ever do go to the Philippines, I will do everything in my power not to get mugged, losing all of my cash, credit cards and cell phone and everything except, apparently, a really good Internet connection.

More important, if I ever do go to the Philippines, and if I ever do get mugged and stranded, and if I ever lose everything but my Internet link, I promise that I will not email you saying “I am writing this with tears in my eyes,” and I will not ask for your financial support. It will not happen.

>But here's the key. Please read this part carefully. If at any time you do get a message from me from the Philippines saying that all of these things have happened, that I've been mugged and the police won't help me and that my flight is leaving soon, I give you permission to delete it. Just trash it.

I even absolve you of any guilt you may feel for not coming to my aid. Even if there is a remote chance that the note came from me — and there is none — just chalk it up to my imprudence for traveling to the Philippines, which apparently has become the Mecca for traveler muggings.

But don't feel sorry for me. Really. Because if I ever do travel to the Philippines, and if I should fall in harm's way, and I am so desperate as to email you and all others and I am rejected, the situation will be so dripping with irony and coincidence that I will be able to write a book and make lots of money. Much more money than I lost during the mugging, because I usually don't carry a lot of cash when I travel, which would especially be true in the Philippines. Not that I've been there.

So again, I implore you. Don't send money. This is especially true for you, Mom.

While on that subject, I want to speak to all the grandmothers out there. (Some grandfathers need to hear this as well, but it mostly concerns grandmas.)

If at any time you get an email or phone call from someone calling you “grandma” claiming he or she is stuck in a foreign land — perhaps claiming to be in a Mexico jail — and pleading with you to send money for bail, just hang up. I know this goes against every fiber of your being. After all, there aren't enough Band-aids in the world to count how many times you have come, and would come, to the aid of your grandchildren. But I encourage you, hang up. This is especially true if the caller pleads with you not to tell “mom and dad.” Big red flag.

In fact this goes for any other message, whether it involves a plea for help, a job opening or a “golden” business opportunity, that requires secrecy and a wire transfer. Hang up or hit delete.

As for the “grandparent scam,” that's been floating around since 2008. Why? Because it works. According to the American Association of Retired Persons, more than 25,500 older Americans reported sending $110 million to scammers posing as family members during 2011 alone. Just before Thanksgiving, an 88-year-old grandma in Omaha thought she was helping a granddaughter who was stranded in Peru. She wasn't. She ended up losing $23,785.

According to an ABC Nightline report from last year, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center said it had roughly 150,000 complaints on file about the “stranded traveler” email scam.

But that's only the tip of the iceberg. Officials estimate roughly 90 percent of those who have fallen for one of these scams never admit it out of pure embarrassment.

So please, all grandmothers out there, if you get one of these calls, at least test them. Ask them whether they liked the tomato aspic you made for Christmas dinner. If he or she says “yes,” hang up quickly. Everybody knows you only bring cranberry salad molds during Advent.

Finally, to my kids, I have just one warning to offer. Before you announce that you have found someone you plan to marry, please make sure that he or she not only is the right person but that he or she is, in fact, a person. As the unfortunate situation concerning Notre Dame football player Manti Te'o has demonstrated, this simple fact-check will prevent a lot of pain and embarrassment.

Yes, the Internet has opened new avenues for connecting romantically, ways that I don't begin to understand. But I do know there are some old-fashioned methods that still work — such as meeting face to face. If the object of your affection keeps coming up with reasons why you cannot meet in person, she is not just being demure. She is fiction. Run away.

So how do I know that some day one of you may get a call or email from a grandchild or a friend — maybe even me — claiming to be stranded? Because you probably already have, and you will again. These bogus messages are as thick as flies out there. Swat them.

Even as I write this, I am discovering that someone has created a Twitter account with my photo seeking to generate support for my candidacy for the Santa Rosa City Council. You can't make this stuff up.

I will tell you that this Twitter account is only slightly less bogus — but far less interesting — than Manti Te'o's girlfriend. But I assure you that I am no more running for the City Council than I'm in the Philippines, which I'm not, so please don't worry.

Although sometimes it sure feels like we are all being mugged.

Doesn't it?

Paul Gullixson is editorial director for The Press Democrat. Email him at paul.gullixson@pressdemocrat.com or call him at (707) 521-5282.

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