January 26, 2011
My computer has been hacked into by some ingenious and diabolical people. An e-mail was sent out from my e-mail address by someone who had broken into my computer. It claimed I was in Valencia, Spain, and had lost my money and cell phone and could people send $3,700 to a particular address.
Now many people with e-mail are used to these scams, but lots are not. Three people I know almost sent money to these schemers. One had sent an e-mail back to the scammers asking if this really me. But since the hackers had access to all my e-mails and my address book, they were able to find a previous e-mail I’d sent to the inquiring friend and they sent back a credible reply referencing that previous message.
Since I have several thousand e-mail addresses in my computer address book because of my work with non-profit organizations and neighborhoods, there was a string of reactions, not all of them friendly, because so many individuals had received this scam message on their screens.
One person left an angry notes and said she’d “reported me to the Attorney General.” A family friend, whom I had spoken to recently when my mother died after decades of no communication, left a message saying, “What this about? I don’t want any part of this and don’t you call my sister, either.” A police captain to whom I had sent an e-mail to four years ago called and said, “Well, I hadn’t heard from you in years, but I was considering sending you a hundred bucks but no way was I sending thousands.” And for the following two weeks, when I came into a meeting, inevitably one person would kid me: “So, how was Valencia?” or “I guess you found a way to get home from Spain.”
These scams are a kind of international Mafia operation. They send out these false e-mails trying to get people to send money or to give them their bank account information to supposedly enable them to claim a prize. However, once they get access to your e-mail account, they can search it, say, for information on your bank accounts and steal your money. A computer tech, who assisted me in getting back control of my e-mail account, located one of the hackers in South Africa.
Of course, this is all probably my fault. I received an e-mail about six months ago from someone I knew, so I assumed it was legitimate, saying that Apple was doing a study on IPods and if I agreed to be in a study recording my usage over three weeks, I would get one for free. I immediately thought of my teen-age son, who was clamoring for his own IPod.one of these. I replied via e-mail and I guess that’s how the hackers got access to my e-mail account because I never got that Ipod.
So what did I learn from all this? (1) There’s a sophisticated criminal enterprise operating in computers worldwide. (2) Some friends and people I know are wonderfully supportive and clearly willing to help in a big way if I ever find myself in trouble. (3) Others who know me assume I could be some sort of scammer. (4) Most people are aware of these scams and while bothered by the wasteful e-mail, they laugh them off and delete the files right away. If you’ve read the popular novel “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” then you’ve met the wonderful character Lisbeth Salander. She looks like a punk rocker and is the most skilled computer hacker in the world, but she uses her powers against the bad guys. We all need to have a Lisbeth at our side to turn the tables on these strangers with computers who keep trying to steal from average people wanting to help a friend.
Lew Finfer is a Dorchester resident.