Today’s Spotlight is different than my usual ones. When I say the worst type of writer is one you don’t want to meet, I say that sincerely. Unfortunately, it was my bad luck to encounter one yesterday and I spent an entire day trying to straighten it out and let people know I am alive and well in Las Vegas.
I was hacked
These writers, the ones you don’t want to encounter, are hackers. There are several versions of the way they attempt to prey on the unsuspecting friends and acquaintances of those who have been hacked. Locations change, type of emergency changes, but in the end their mission is to appeal to the gullibility of a kind person. While it’s not the “you have inherited a gazillion dollars, now just send me your credit card number for processing fees” Nigerian scheme, it is equally vexing and apparently also originating from Nigeria in most cases.
The jerk who hacked my Facebook account and totally wiped it out by changing the User ID and password sent the following email to every single person in my contact list. People who know me would never fall for such a poorly written email. They know I’m an author and they know I’d choke before writing an email like what you see below, even if I was distraught as the writer claims to be.
Date: Mon, 17 Oct 2011 09:34:49 -0700
From: [email protected] (Note: This is NOT my email)
Subject: Awful Trip !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Morgan St. James
To:I am so distraught. I thought i could reach out to you to help me out. I came down to Barcelona,Spain for a short vacation unfortunately I got mugged at the park of the hotel I stayed,all cash,credit card and cell phone was stolen from me but luckily for me I still have my passport with me. I have been to the embassy and to the police here but they’re not helping issues at all and, my flight leaves in few hours time from now but. I’m having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won’t let me leave until I settle my hotel bills. I’m freaked out at the moment.
A piece of advice
If you receive a ridiculous communication like this and it appears to be from someone you know, the odds are that it’s a scammer. Some of these fraudsters hijack existing e-mail accounts and use them for advance-fee fraud purposes. They e-mail associates, friends, and/or family members of the legitimate account owner in an attempt to defraud them. It must be ramping up, because there was even an article about it in the New York Times today. They were flooded with comments, some of them quite interesting. This ruse generally requires the use of phishing or keylogger computer viruses to gain login information for the e-mail address. That’s obviously what happened to me, but I’d put the fraudster who hit me in the category of dumb criminals.
Actually this joker could stand some lessons in writing fiction. How about the line, “—my flight leaves in few hours time from now but. I’m having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won’t let me leave until I settle my hotel bills. I’m freaked out at the moment.”
Right. You, as the object of the fraudster’s avarice, receive this email and immediately break speed records to wire the money to your friend (or someone you barely know) so they can pay the bill and get to the airport. If you don’t come to their rescue the plane will leave, but of course the implication is that this person is still at the hotel. Um hmm. Well, my stupid fraudster didn’t even tell people how much or where to send the money, assuming someone would be naive enough to actually believe it in the first place without checking. Was it a serious attempt or just something this person did because they could? I suspect the latter. I can’t imagine anyone being that dumb.
The havoc it caused.
I chose to write this column today as a warning. A way to save lots of aggravation. Early yesterday morning the emails began to stream in. Some asked if I was okay, or in the case of those who had received phishing like this in the past about other friends, they let me know what was happening. I received tons of emails. The phone began to ring about 10:00 a.m. Same thing. They got an email. I’m grateful to my friends and acquaintances for alerting me.
My Facebook account was totally wiped out as far as access. Every one of my friend contacts gone. I tried over and over to get into the account without success. I spent hours on the Facebook help sites because you cannot find a live person to speak to at Facebook or even go online with one. Everything is generic. Finally I found a form that was supposed to address the problem and restore access to the account. I filled the whole thing out, only to see a message at the bottom that this particular issue could not be addressed. I admit, I was really miffed at that point.
Save yourself some time if this happens to you. Block the existing account if you can get into it at all. I couldn’t but that didn’t matter since the page totally disappeared. Set up a new account under a different name if you want a Facebook page, and accept the fact that you are back to square one. As for the email account or accounts they hacked, immediately change the password to one that is hard to break into. That may not work, but at least you’re trying.
If your friends subsequently get another email saying you’re held captive in Africa or Geneva or Antarctica, they have done the drill already. They will know it is bogus. And to the hackers I say, “Get a life!
Morgan St. James writes Spotlight every Tuesday in the Las Vegas edition and every Wednesday in the Los Angeles edition. Writers’ Tricks of the Trade runs in the Las Vegas edition on Thursday and Los Angeles on Friday.
Her new book, Writers’ Tricks of the Trade: 39 Things You Need to Know About the ABCs of Writing Fiction was released in September. Morgan co-authors the Silver Sisters Mysteries with her real sister, Phyllice Bradner. The latest comical crime caper, Vanishing Act in Vegas, was released in September as well. All of her books are available in paperback, eBook and Kindle at many online booksellers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books a Million, or order from your favorite local bookstore.
For more information visit www.morganstjames-author.com, www.silversistersmysteries.com and http://writerstricksofthetrade.blogspot.com.