American Airlines Email Scam Targets Columbia Residents

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COLUMBIA - You may not know Irina Kravchenko or Lidiya Semyonov , but you might be recieving an email from American Airlines saying you bought plane tickets for them.

This is what happened to Mark Johnson, a Student Media Coordinator at Mizzou, who was targeted in an email phishing scam. He recently recieved an email from an unknown source pretending to be American Airlines saying that he had bought two round trip tickets from Columbia to Dallas and then Las Vegas. The price? $1932.75 dollars.

"This was probably the most perfect scam I'd seen," Johnson said. "They definately copied everything almost exactly to a tee that you would see in a normal American Airlines email itinerary."

The email included false links to hotel booking sites, car rental services, even a long and detailed terms and conditions section that gave information about baggage charges. 

"It was almost to the point where, had this been legitimate, they're doing a service. They could be an airline company, they've got everything that the client would need," Johnson said.

"Don't trust unsolicited emails, even if they do appear to come from legitimate companies," said Mike Harrison, the Mid-Missouri Regional Director of the Better Buisness Bureau. "If folks have any questions about that, they can contact that company or that agency directly."

Harrison said there are several other ways that one can help protect themselves from email scams. When reading an email that you are unsure of the sender, do not open any attachments or click on any links in the body of the email. These can potentially lead to your computer getting a virus or some sort of malware, a term short for malicious software.

One way to check a link without clicking on it is to hover your mouse over it. On the bottom left of your computer screen the URL of where the link will send you will appears. For example: if you hover your mouse over THIS link, you should see the URL appear. Obviously, Google is a site you can trust, and therefore can feel safe clicking the link. Many times scam emails will send you to a long, complicated URL with numbers and letters that do not make sense.

"You want to delete those suspicious emails," Harrison said. "Not only from your inbox, but you also want to delete that from your spam folder or trash folder."

Latisha Stroer, a member of the Columbia Police Department said many times scam emails will use a false sense of urgency to trick people into giving out personal information.

"That's what we see a lot of the times. 'You need to send money now, if you're going to buy this product it needs to be now.' If it's a legitimate buisness, they're going to let you make that decision on your own," Stroer said.

Many email scams hinge on tricking people into giving out personal information, and keeping that information private is the most important thing you can do.

"Don't give out a Social Security number, don't give out credit card information, don't give out bank account information, don't give out any personal information whether it's by email or over the phone," said Harrison. "You don't want to give that information out."

Johnson, who said he considers himself familiar with computers, was able to tell that the email was a scam but said he would be worried if someone not as tech-savvy as himself recieved it.

"If that scam came to somebody who didn't know what scams look like, or was expecting the scam to be the Nigerian prince, you know asking for money, it could easily get many people into a lot of trouble," Johnson said.