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Patricia Boyd of Petaluma is not in Spain. What's more, the Sonoma County Human Rights Commissioner did not misplace her wallet, ID, credit cards and other valuables on the way back to a hotel in Madrid.

And while like most of us Boyd could use an extra $2,200, she's not the one who recently made that request by email. That urgent call for help — along with the phony scenario that she was stranded in Spain, unable to pay her hotel bill — came from whomever hacked her email account.

"He deleted my entire address book and my outgoing mail," said Boyd, who spent a good part of the week fielding calls from concerned friends and colleagues, assuring them that she was OK.

"That's why it was impossible for me to send out mass e-mails to let everyone know that this was a scam," she said.

Most people are familiar with the occasional email from a stranger in a foreign country offering a money-making deal that's too good to be true. Often, the sender claims to be a prince, business person or dignitary needing someone to open an account in the United States so that they can deposit a much larger sum of money.

But recently, more sophisticated e-scams are appearing, in which a victim's email or Facebook account has been hacked, opening the flood gates for mass email notification to everyone in the victim's address book.

For Boyd, the whole thing left her feeling vulnerable and anxious as she frantically went about plugging the privacy breach with her Internet service provider, wondering if anyone from her extensive address book would fall for the scam.

Meanwhile, the hacker sat at a computer like someone with a thousand fishing lines in the water, waiting for someone to bite. Most ignored Boyd's impersonator, but a short reply — "How do I help" — from a reporter whose e-mail was part of Boyd's hacked contacts list, led to a two-day exchange that illustrates the tenacity with which these cyber anglers will fight for their catch.

More than 33 separate e-mail exchanges occurred, with the reporter engaging the e-mailer, offering help, but seeking information or a place to meet. Finally, exasperated, the e-mailer wrote:

"OMG.....I provided you with the information you needed. The schools I attend and my age. I've made contact with my bank but it would take me days to access funds in my account from here. That's the reason am seeking for your help and it's taking forever. I'll refund the money back to you as soon as I get back."

When the reporter responded that he was a reporter seeking information, the scammer posing as Boyd stopped responding.

Boyd's hacker had gained access to her SBC Global email password. Once inside her account, the hacker changed her email settings to have all her incoming email forwarded to a Yahoo email address that had been set up by the hacker.

The hacker then sent out the urgent email request, which those in her address book started receiving about 10:25 a.m. Aug. 31. Boyd said that her address book of more than 2,000 contacts and all of her outgoing e-mails were then deleted.

This particular hack-and-scam has become frequent, said Carl Chapman, Supervising Inspector of the multi-agency Northern California Computer Crimes Task Force.

His investigators get regular complaints about the scam, and typically forward them to federal agents. The local agency will take on cases if they appear to originate locally.

"The money could be going anywhere in the world," said Chapman, who is an inspector with the Marin County District Attorney's Office.

"What we do is try to work through the IC3 (the Internet Crime Complaint Center) and try to work it from our end if it comes back here, if we find that the money is being sent to our jurisdiction," he said.

A handful of people in the Bay Area are known to have sent money in response to one overseas pleas for help, he said.

"It's just another take on an old fashioned scam," Chapman said.

In late March, Sonoma County Superior Court Judge James Bertoli responded with curiosity to an impersonator who apparently had hacked the email account of someone he knows — a court professional named John who was in Bertoli's courtroom the day before he received the urgent message.

The message Bertoli received stated that John was stranded in London because his bag was "stolen from me with my passport and credit cards in it." Bertoli played along, offering to send the money and asking the impersonator to call, though the number he provided belonged to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office.

The impersonator ignored the requests and instead asked Bertoli to send $2,500 by Western Union to 11 Charing Cross Road, London.

"No one is immune," said Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch.

She gets the e-mails regularly, Ravitch said, adding that, a recent one was fairly convincing.

"It was written in sort of casual way that a friend would send, and I actually read through it and...gave it a second look," she said.

In Boyd's case, the impersonator requested $2,200 be sent to Ave. Betanzos 52, Madrid, which was later described as a "Western Union cash point" in a shopping plaza. A Google street view of the address brings up a commercial street with several businesses, including a photo frame shop, a dried fruit shop, a mattress shop and an optical shop.

Boyd's impersonator, who said he or she was using a computer in a local library, grew increasingly impatient with each email requesting more information about the phony scenario. But the impersonator never gave up.

Instead, the person pleaded more aggressively and tried to make Boyd's would-be savior feel like he was Boyd's last hope.

"In less than an hour, the library will be closed and I may not be able to get the cash. Pls (sic) kindly do this for me, I'm more comfortable with you sending me the cash. I'll pay you back as soon as I get in. You can rush down to any western union agent around you and have it done asap, so I can pick it up here. You can do this in less than 30 minutes!"

When asked to provide Boyd's personal information, including her exact birth date, the impersonator apparently began surfing the Internet and came up with Boyd's master's thesis, which included a biographical sketch, but not her birth date.

Back in early August, Kurt Hahn of Healdsburg was on his way home from Grass Valley when he learned what had happened to, well, to Kurt Hahn.

He'd lost his wallet in the United Kingdom and needed financial help to pay off his hotel bills, which had climbed to $3,287.27, and get safely home again.

Or so said whomever had, from wherever in the world, hacked Hahn's email address book and sent messages in Hahn's name to his 1,000 or so contacts.

One, an English cousin of Hahn's, had responded to the email plea, received Western Union information in return, and had called family members to get help for their American relative.

"That concerned us," said Hahn, former chairman of the North Sonoma County Hospital District.

It took telephone calls to England and hours on the phone with his Internet service provider and Western Union to re-secure his email account and to be certain the would-be crooks would not be able to pick up any money should an unwitting friend, relative or colleague send some.

Fortunately, he said, because the email was rife with grammatical errors and misspellings, most people who know him recognized it as a fake.

"I guess we can be thankful that the hackers are not that sophisticated in their language and leave enough clues that 99 out of 100 people will not get sucked in," he said.

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