Hackers steal your e-mail to rob your friends

  • Patricia Boyd of Petaluma had her online email account hacked, Friday September 2, 2011. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2011

Patricia Boyd of Petaluma is not in Spain. What's more, the Sonoma County Human Rights Commissioner did not misplace her wallet, ID, credit cards and other valuables on the way back to a hotel in Madrid.

And while like most of us Boyd could use an extra $2,200, she's not the one who recently made that request by email. That urgent call for help — along with the phony scenario that she was stranded in Spain, unable to pay her hotel bill — came from whomever hacked her email account.

"He deleted my entire address book and my outgoing mail," said Boyd, who spent a good part of the week fielding calls from concerned friends and colleagues, assuring them that she was OK.

"That's why it was impossible for me to send out mass e-mails to let everyone know that this was a scam," she said.

Most people are familiar with the occasional email from a stranger in a foreign country offering a money-making deal that's too good to be true. Often, the sender claims to be a prince, business person or dignitary needing someone to open an account in the United States so that they can deposit a much larger sum of money.

But recently, more sophisticated e-scams are appearing, in which a victim's email or Facebook account has been hacked, opening the flood gates for mass email notification to everyone in the victim's address book.

For Boyd, the whole thing left her feeling vulnerable and anxious as she frantically went about plugging the privacy breach with her Internet service provider, wondering if anyone from her extensive address book would fall for the scam.

Meanwhile, the hacker sat at a computer like someone with a thousand fishing lines in the water, waiting for someone to bite. Most ignored Boyd's impersonator, but a short reply — "How do I help" — from a reporter whose e-mail was part of Boyd's hacked contacts list, led to a two-day exchange that illustrates the tenacity with which these cyber anglers will fight for their catch.

More than 33 separate e-mail exchanges occurred, with the reporter engaging the e-mailer, offering help, but seeking information or a place to meet. Finally, exasperated, the e-mailer wrote:

"OMG.....I provided you with the information you needed. The schools I attend and my age. I've made contact with my bank but it would take me days to access funds in my account from here. That's the reason am seeking for your help and it's taking forever. I'll refund the money back to you as soon as I get back."

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