While home between trips last week, my Hotmail e-mail account was hacked by a virus, which proceeded to send notes to everyone on my distribution list. I spent hours explaining to friends and family what happened. The only good thing about the whole situation was chatting with old friends.
I was a bit surprised, because I am diligent about safe computing. At home I use the full suite of Norton 2006 tools, two firewalls and two anti-spyware programs. Not satisfied with automatic tools, I manually update my software and operating system every couple days at home and work.
But with all my friends being asked to “click here,” by a viral e-mail, it was obvious I missed something. The worst moments came when friends told me the link that was sent to them didn’t work. Dang, that link was probably designed to copy the virus to their computer.
Before leaving for Washington, D.C., on Sunday, I changed the password on my Hotmail e-mail account. That seemed to stop the virus. I then rescanned all my computers. Everything came up clean.
I began to suspect that the computer I used while in Connecticut might be the culprit. It had been running slow, so I plan to ask a relative to check it.
On Thursday morning while still in D.C., I received a call from my wife, who told me to called Visa. Uh-oh.
The nice lady at Chase Bank told me that someone had purchased $300 in phone cards from Qwest, a baby bell located mostly in the mountain states. For those unfamiliar with this nation’s underground economy, phone cards often are used as a form of currency because they sell easily and are difficult to trace. In other words, phone cards are a great way to launder credit card fraud.
Visa canceled the charges from my bill and is sending me a new card – the old one was still safely in my pocket! Now that I’m home I can shred it. Although I get annoyed with big business as much as anyone, Chase Bank was professional and helpful.
In an ironic twist, I had to change the filters on my Blackberry, earlier this year because I was receiving “urgent” spam from e-mailers pretending to be Chase Bank. I never clicked on any of them, and I even reported the bogus e-mail – commonly called “phishing” – directly to Chase Bank.
I should point out that I never entered my Visa number on the computer in Connecticut, so I don’t know if there is any relation to the two crimes. But last year, I received a mailing from Lexis/Nexis, which gave me a year’s subscription to Equifax, a credit protection company. Why would they do that? Because a Lexis/Nexis subsidiary was hacked and thousands of credit card numbers were stolen, including mine.
Later, a relative informed me his e-mail also was hacked while we were in Connecticut. He used the same suspect computer that I did. Rather than e-mails being sent to his distribution list, his password was changed and now he cannot log on to his own account.
It is difficult to sort out the guilty culprits with such a variety of events. I may never know the truth, but I bring all this up for these reasons:
- My friends who received bogus e-mails from me need to check their computers for infection.
- To warn my readers at large that they need to be careful in their computer dealings.
- To yet again point out declining societal values that endanger our children in the years ahead.
On my flight home, I talked to an FBI agent who investigates Securities fraud. I joked that she should investigate my credit card case. During our conversation I learned a couple disquieting things:
- Cases like Enron are all too common. Her office finds Securities violations on a regular basis.
- The FBI doesn’t have the manpower to fight the millions of computer and credit card scams like the one I ran into.
In other words, we can’t expect law enforcement to solve these kinds of problems. It’s one thing to break up organized crime syndicates, but it’s another to fight millions of conscious-less computer hackers.
Sadly, I am unable to switch to a Macintosh. My career really doesn’t allow for it. And as a reality check, millions of Americans have no real choice but to continue using Windows. Firefox helps, but it doesn’t do much good if you are traveling and need to use someone else’s computer.
About the best we can do is try to stay one step ahead of the millions of criminals trying to steal our identities and hard-earned money. Just remember that these folks spend hours and hours in dark bedrooms or dank offices around the world doing nothing but writing software to wreak havoc on our lives.
It’s a dangerous world out there.