The email describes a travel nightmare: "Help! I've been robbed at gunpoint while visiting Cairo and desperately need your assistance!" 

No money, no credit cards, no passport or cell phone - your friend is scared and stranded.  What they need you to do is wire them some money quickly. Your instinct is to help your friend. But don't because it's probably a scam.

Fake emergency emails are being sent by scammers posing as a friend or family member. The messages come from cyber-thieves who gather contact information by either hijacking someone's email or social networking account, or by collecting the names of people who are cc:'d on mass emails. The scam message may come from an email address that looks a lot like your friend's real one.

Protect yourself from the fake emergency email scam by taking the following precautions:

  • Always be skeptical of emails that describe an urgent need for you to wire money no matter who it appears to be coming from. More often than not, if someone is requesting a money wire, it's a scam.

  • If you're suspicious, try to contact your friend to verify the emergency. If it is a scam, encourage them to warn their contacts about the phony email.

  • When sending group emails always "bcc:" (blind carbon copy) your recipients. That way their names and email addresses are not visible after the email is sent.

  • Protect your email and social networking accounts by using unique passwords that include numbers and capital letters, advises Oregon Attorney General John Kroger.