My friend and co-worker, Marion Paynter, had the misfortune recently of becoming the target of one of the most vexing crimes of the digital age: identity theft. More specifically, the old I'm-stuck-in-Europe-please-wire-money trick the scammers love. Marion learned back in July that her G-mail account had been hacked, and this message had been sent out to all her contacts:
I'm writing this with tears in my eyes,my family and I came down here to North England, United Kingdom for a short vacation. unfortunately,we were mugged at the park of the hotel where we stayed,all cash and credit card were stolen off us but luckily for us we still have our passports with us.
We've been to the Embassy and the Police here but they're not helping issues at all and our flight leaves in few hours from now but we're having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won't let us leave until we settle the bills. Well I really need your financially assistance..Please, let me know if you can help us out?
Am freaked out at the moment!!
One of her friends responded to the hacker, and he asked her to wire $1,600 to a specific account. But she, like Marion's other friends, didn't fall for it. (Interestingly, she notes, the hacker sent that message from a separate Yahoo account he'd set up in Marion's name). He'd also changed her G-mail account's password, her secret question and her secondary e-mail account she'd used to set up the account. So, she couldn't get into the account, and it took her days of work to get Google to recognize she was indeed Marion Paynter and not a hacker herself.
Almost four weeks after the hacker attacked, Google finally sent her an alert saying "suspicious activity" had been noticed on her account. Google said the attack originated in Nigeria. To this day, she says, she still doesn't know how the hacker got into her account. Her advice: change your password regularly and make sure it's secure. (Click here to get a Google engineer's advice on dealing with this common scam).
What about you? Have you had any close encounters with identity thieves? Any tips to share about how to stay safe?