Mike Brogan of Birmingham has never been to Cyprus and he doesn't need $3,000, but for those who responded fretfully to the email, he thanks you for your concern.
Or, if you're one of the people who sent him a smart-alecky comment, he thanks you for the comic relief.
As far as Brogan knows, no one lost money when he was targeted this month by an Internet hacker. He lost a few hours of his life dealing with his email provider, but it could have been worse — especially if this particular scammer hadn't been such an incompetent.
The public service aspect to the story is that a lot of people need to reevaluate their passwords, not only for email but for social media. There's also a tip involved for the hacker, but let's hope he doesn't read it.
Brogan, 70, used to be a big shooter in the advertising business. Now he writes novels, and two weekends ago he attended a thriller writers' conference in New York.
Actually, "attended" seems like too tame a verb. For a thriller conference, let's say he skulked, sashayed or marauded through it. Then he came home and spent Sunday night emailing his latest manuscript to editors and agents who had blessedly taken an interest.
Early Monday, he woke up to alarmed messages making sure he was OK. The hacker, he says, had "emailed everyone I've known since Harry Truman."
"I just arrived Cyprus and I am in a fix," the note said. "Can I get a loan of $3,000 or whatever amount if not all. You will have it as soon as I get back home. It is really urgent, get back to me as soon as you can. Please keep this between us."
"Hacked when I slept," Brogan says. "Maybe that should be the title of my next book."
Brogan was an early enough passenger on the email train that his handle is detroitmike. The downside of jumping aboard so long ago is that he predated all the helpful hints about using complex passwords.
His was just his first name with a few letters after it — no match, says Lisa Dilg of the Eastern Michigan Better Business Bureau, for a hacker with a sophisticated computer program.
Dilg says the hacker most likely purchased or stole a list of emails Brogan happened to be on. She's seen similar attacks before, and was surprised at the missing ingredient in this one: directions on where to send the money.
"I would have expected it to have wire transfer information," she says. It's possible the computer criminal was reading the return emails, preparing to pounce on one that seemed particularly vulnerable, but it's more likely that whoever it was simply forgot. Even mail-jackers have bad days.
Related scams often target older people, with the scammer claiming to be a grandchild. When in doubt, Dilg says, ask a question that only the person who's allegedly in trouble could answer — the name of a pet, for instance, rather than, "Where the heck is Cyprus?"
No sight of Cyprus
The Republic of Cyprus occupies most of an island in the Mediterranean Sea, east of Greece and south of Turkey.
It has an insufficient supply of water and an oversupply of Turks, who invaded the northern end of the country in 1974 and stuck around, thoroughly vexing the Cypriots to the south.
Brogan lived in Paris for two years and Brussels for five during his advertising days, but it never occurred to him to visit what's now the warmest nation in the Mediterranean sector of the European Union.
"There's always somebody mad at somebody in Cyprus," he says, a condition that predates Internet crime by decades. An even-tempered sort, Brogan is only mad at the hacker, who might not have ever set foot in Cyprus, either.
"If they can hack the Pentagon," he says, "they can hack little guys like you and me." But at least we can make it a little more difficult to do.