03/05/2014 01:06 pm ET Updated May 05, 2014

The Dearly Departed Now Lie in Your Spam Folder

My Facebook pal Jeannie received the email several weeks ago. A close friend passed away and the service was taking place the following day. Jeannie thought about sending a sympathy card, paying her respects in person, or otherwise reaching out to the deceased's family. There was just one small problem.

"I wish I knew who I lost," she messaged me.

She wrote it half-jokingly, knowing the email from Eubank Funeral Home and Cremation Services, and signed by "Funeral Home Receptionist Brandon Wilkerson" was most likely a hoax. After all, she reasoned, what cold-hearted funeral home employee would send out a friend's service notice complete with the sentence, "find invitation and more detailed information about the farewell ceremony here" with a hyperlink over "here." In other words, click here and we'll fill you in on the rest.

Of course, anybody who has ever been the victim of an email scam knows that clicking "here" leads to all sorts of nasty results: Your contact list gets hacked, your credit card numbers get stolen, your garage door goes up and down by itself and you develop an unsightly skin rash. And that's just in the first hour.

But what if it's not a scam, I asked Jeannie? What if Mr. Wilkerson was in a hurry and simply forgot to include the deceased's name? Haven't we all sent emails that failed to contain a vital piece of information? Just last week I incorporated the following sentence in a message: "I'll be arriving on Flight next Thursday. Thanks for picking me up."

I didn't realize I'd neglected to divulge the actual flight number until my business associate replied, "Should I just wander around the airport all day until I see you?"

I decided to set Jeannie's mind at ease, while satisfying my own curiosity. A quick Google search revealed that a Eubank Funeral Home does exist. In Canton, Texas, about 60 miles east of Dallas. I dialed the number.

"Brandon Wilkerson please."

"Er...there's nobody here by that name."

"But, but, only he knows about my friend's farewell ceremony," I replied, a hint of anguish creeping into my voice.

"You're calling about that email, aren't you?"

And with that I was transferred to Eubank Funeral Home office manager Ashley Walser, who informed me that spammers have apparently stopped telling unsuspecting email recipients that they have received a large sum of cash from a generous Nigerian citizen, and instead switched to faux funeral notices. Since the email surfaced in mid-January, Eubank has received hundreds of calls and emails from people either furious that they clicked on the link -- "They've threatened us," Walser said -- to others, convinced that a friend or relative now lies in Canton.

"I had one lady who said, 'I need to know if my mother is there,'" Walser said. "I said, 'She's not here.' And she said, 'You didn't even check.'"

Eubank has even posted a message on its site, warning people not to use their computer mouse to discover which acquaintance had gone to meet his or her maker. And yet the funeral home continues fielding calls, from as far away as Australia. Such is the power of a well-crafted email scam.

"We had a man call and tell us his girlfriend was trying to kill him," Walser said. "He was convinced this was all part of her plan."

Walser said the entire Eubank staff has no idea how their funeral home got singled out for the ruse. A family owned, third generation business, Eubank mostly serves the Canton community, population 5,000. The flurry of phone calls and emails unfortunately, has not caused a spike in business. Only headaches, Walser said.

Jeannie, relieved that all of her friends are currently still alive, wrote that she may have to specify a particular funeral home in her will so mourners will know ahead of time where to pay their respects. I agreed and said I hope to attend if she passes on before me.

As long as I don't have to click "here" for directions.


Copyright © 2014 Greg Schwem distributed by Tribune Content Services, Inc.