This page discusses the email and SMS 'hit-man' scam,
the obverse of the Nigerian email scam
It covers -
Use of postal mail and the telephone system to extort
money by threatening people is traditional (and as noted
below has been addressed trhrough a range of enactments
and technical measures). It is unsurprising, given the
cheapness of email and SMS,
that some scammers have turned the 419 routine on its
head - threatening the recipient with harm unless money
is paid rather than offering to share money with the recipient.
The so-called hit-man scam gained attention in late 2006,
with the FBI in the US for example noting a substantial
increase in the number of such messages.
Typically the scam involves an email threat warning the
victim that he/she will be killed or injured unless the
scammer receives several thousand dollars. The message
often claims that the recipient - who is generically identified
- has been followed by the scammer.
One threat provided to the FBI for example indicated
have followed you closely for one week and three days
now. ... Do not contact the police or F.B.I. or try
to send a copy of this to them, because if you do I
will know, and might be pushed to do what I have being
paid to do.
with initial approaches by 419 scammers the 'hit-men'
messages are untargeted: the scammer simply sends a threat
to every address on a list (which might be the same list
used for offers to share Saddam Hussein or Yasser Arafat's
loot) and trusts that there will be a response.
2008 saw proliferation of 'hitmen' messages by SMS. Australians
for example received messages such as
paid me to kill you. If you want me to spare you, I'll
give you two days to pay $5000. If you inform the police
or anybody, you will die. I am monitoring you
t he scammer providing the unlucky recipient with a payment
method and an email address for contact.
In Australia extortion of money through threats to kill/injure
an individual or cause damage to property are illegal.
of the state Crimes Act 1958 in Victoria for
example specifies that the perpetrator of 'extortion with
threat to kill' (ie where a person who makes a demand
of another person with a threat to kill or inflict injury)
is guilty of an indictable offence.
Provisions in the state and territory criminal codes are
underpinned by federal communications law.
The federal Criminal Code, updated through the Crimes
Legislation Amendment (Telecommunications Offences &
Other Measures) Act (No. 2) 2004, features offences
of using a carriage service or a "postal or similar
service" "to menace, harass or cause offence".
As noted elsewhere
on this site, Section 471.11 of the Criminal Code
Act 1995 makes it an offence to use a postal or similar
service to make a threat.
(1) prohibits making a threat to kill if the author
of that threat intends the person to fear that the threat
will be carried out.
477.11 (2) covers postal threats to cause serious harm.
In both subsections 'actual fear' not required: "it
is not necessary to prove that the person receiving
the threat actually feared that the threat would be