E-mail scam targets arts council

September 30, 2009 9:40:00 AM

Tim Pratt -


STARKVILLE -- Candy Crecink went to work Tuesday morning expecting it to be just like any other day. 


But within minutes, Crecink was on the phone with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to report a suspected Internet crime.  


Someone had hacked into the Arts Council''s e-mail account and sent out a disturbing message to everyone in the organization''s address book. The message said Crecink, who serves as executive assistant at the at the Starkville Area Arts Council, was stranded in England and needed money.  


"I''m in England, and in need of your urgent assistance," the e-mail said. "Please send me ($2,000.00) to enable me to complete my activities here. I will reimburse you as soon as I return. Send it through Western Union or Money Gram with this information." 


The message went on to tell recipients to send the funds to Crecink at a location in London, followed by her name and Arts Council e-mail signature. Crecink, who was at the Starkville Arts Council trying to sort out the e-mail debacle much of Tuesday, has never even been to England.  


An exasperated Crecink spent most of Tuesday morning calling people and warning them not to open the Arts Council e-mail message, which said "urgent pls" in the subject line. Her phone also rang constantly as people called to find out what the e-mail was all about.  


"Everyone keeps calling saying, ''Where do you want me to send the $2,000? England?''" Crecink said. "They''re just joking, of course."  


But some people called Crecink with genuine concern, asking if she needed the money. 


"At least I got to talk to some people I haven''t talked to in a long time," she said with a smile. 


Crecink said she has been receiving e-mail notifications since May saying the Arts Council''s Yahoo account would be shut down unless she updates its contact information. Luckily Crecink made copies of those e-mails, which she will turn over to the FBI, as they could have come from the hacker, she said. 


Crecink plans to meet with an agent, at the FBI''s Columbus office, about the incident. 


According to Crecink, an FBI agent told her the program that sent the e-mail won''t affect computers whose users opened the message unless the person "acts" on it, such as forwarding it or replying. But Crecink said her husband received the Arts Council e-mail and his e-mail account forwarded it on to some of his contacts who aren''t in the Arts Council''s address book. 


Crecink estimates hundreds of people received the message, from city officials to local artists to friends in other cities. She discussed the incident with Starkville police and had Yahoo reset the e-mail account with a new password. Unfortunately for Crecink, the address book was erased; Yahoo is going to try to retrieve it, she said. 


"This whole thing has just been a nightmare," she said Tuesday afternoon.