Watch out for hackers’ scams

By Alberta Stojkovic - Guest Columnist

After falling for a scam last summer when I was asked to buy an iTunes card for a friend, I was confident I couldn’t be tricked by a fake Facebook note again. That scam had tricked me by saying they had information on a grant possibility. We can surely use grants at the Community Center, so I fell for it.

We hear the hacking stories on the news and know of friends who have been hacked, but never can believe it could happen to us. The latest hackers are getting even harder to detect because they get in to use actual emails of business and individuals.

An email came to my Inbox Tuesday evening from what appeared to be a Microsoft email. The email requested that I update settings on my Outlook-Hotmail account. It asked for my account password and I sent it. That was a big mistake – although it seemed perfectly logical at the time. A few minutes later it occurred to me that it was an unusual request and I hovered over the email address with my cursor. It did have the Microsoft address and seemed legitimate.

Wednesday morning I began to get calls from friends and acquaintances asking me if I had emailed them and needed a favor. Some were immediately suspicious and called me. Others said that they replied to the email and got a second request asking them to buy several hundred dollars’ worth of iTunes or other gift cards for me.

These hackers were into my account and had my entire email list. I was able to trace the problem back to that “Microsoft” email that I realized by now was surely a fake email. They were able to use my name and email so that it appeared that it was me sending the email.

Over the past two days I got 30 to 40 phone calls asking me about these emails. Friends who called all said it just didn’t seem like something I would ask for. I truly hope that anyone who got one of these fake emails with my name on it realized it was a scam and didn’t go out to buy gift cards, or respond in any way except to delete the email or mark it as spam or “phishing.”

The fix on my end was not that hard. I called my son-in-law, Peter, an IT specialist. He had me go to another computer and change my email and other passwords. It turns out that all the email carriers can be vulnerable to “phishing” attacks.

Extreme caution is the watch word. Delete or mark as phishing or junk any suspicious or strange emails. If those emails are from someone you know, call them or just delete them. Never respond to requests for passwords, gift cards, I-Tunes cards or money, no matter how believable.

Hopefully, this warning to err on the side of caution may avoid a terrible headache and inconvenience for someone else.

A good article online is “Top 9 things to do after your email is hacked,” The article covers both prevention and fixing of hacks.

By Alberta Stojkovic

Guest Columnist