Blogger: The real Michelle Ule
Location: Not in London, try Santa Rosa, California
The first call came while I was making dinner on a hectic Saturday night with the adorable grandtoddlers and my ailing husband. “Michelle,” asked the wife of a police officer. “Are you in Santa Rosa or London?”
I handed the one-year-old a graham cracker. “Santa Rosa, why?”
“I was just talking to you on Facebook. You said you were in London and had been held up by someone who stole all your money and you needed help.”
I laughed. “I’m home, but thanks for checking.”
In one of those you-can’t-make-this-up-scenarios, I had posted on World Magazine’s blog that very morning: “If you’re ever in a foreign country and need help, go to the US Embassy; don’t appeal to your friends on Facebook.”
I logged onto my account, but before I could do much more than note I’d been hacked, four other people called me, all of whom had “chatted” with the person we”ll call “the Imposter.” Unfortunately for the Imposter, she had tried to shake down the wife of a computer programmer, the mother of a soldier in Afghanistan who had seen me the day before, my tech-savvy niece, and a media specialist.
I hurried to security help and clicked on “Money transfer scams,” learning how frequently it happens. Within twenty minutes, I shut down my account and entered the twilight zone of disconnection from the Internet.
I could get on, but Facebook would not allow me access to my account until I changed all the settings on my e-mail account, claiming the phishing that got my Facebook account hacked must have come through e-mail, not them.
“Unlikely,” my husband said from his sick bed. He’d just read an article on this very subject.
I went back to the Facebook site and lied that I had changed all my passwords, then tried to log on to my Facebook account. Only to discover the account had a new e-mail address I’d never seen before. The Imposter had opened a yahoo account using my name. I think that frightened me the most of all.
I got back on by proving my e-mail address and then saw the damage that had been done. It felt creepy to think someone had gone to all that trouble to get into my account. And why? Reading through the exchanges with my friends and relatives–whom the Imposter had blocked from accessing my account as soon as they were onto her–I saw my niece had challenged the Imposter with a piece of family information: the name of one of the family babies. The Imposter explored through the photos and had the answer–which is when my niece called me.
I later discovered the Imposter had added “aps” to my account, which allowed the Imposter to switch things back and follow my moves once I regained control of the account.
I didn’t like any of this.
And then Facebook shut me down completely for “potential criminal activity.”
It took me five days to get restored into Facebook’s good graces, but it was a painful five days. Not only because I missed my FB friends, but because of having to change the passwords on all our accounts, “just in case.”
The very first thing we did when we entered the Information Highway fourteen years ago was open an AOL account. We’ve changed homes, schools, phone numbers, credit cards and our minds many times in the interim. Who could remember any of the passwords needed to change all that?
Social media hacking, hacking in general, is on the upswing, and as consumers we need to be prepared for it. It’s probably not even a question of if, but when, unless you take steps. Websites abound willing to help, but the first line of defense is a good password that is changed regularly–every three to six months. We hadn’t changed our password in 14 years.
What do you do to protect yourself on the Internet? Do you have any other suggestions?
Have you ever been hacked? How did you deal with it?