Sunday morning I got an appeal for help from my friend across the street. His e-mail read that he is in Spain and had been robed. Could I send him $3,000? The e-mail had been sent from his e-mail address and in all respects appeared OK.
What was interesting was that we had seen he and his wife the previous afternoon. I called him to confirm they were not in Spain. Obviously, this was a scam. The neighbor told me his e-mail account had been disabled.
I sent a reply to the e-mail asking how I would get the money to my neighbor in trouble. The person at the other end gave me instructions for wiring the money.
Next, I called the sheriff. A deputy appeared half an hour later to take my statement, but said his department could do nothing outside of their jurisdiction. He advised me to contact the Attorney General. They handle fraud investigations. Unfortunately they were not in the office until after Memorial Day. Tuesday, I called the Attorney General’s office. They referred me to a web site operated by the federal government for the purpose of investigating internet fraud.
In the mean time, similar e-mails had gone out to everyone in my neighbor’s address book. He and his wife answered a lot of concerned phone calls from friends and relatives. They could still not access their e-mail.
With the holiday over, they contacted Qwest and Microsoft, but before anything could be done to help them, they had to fill out a lot of documents verifying their identity. Eventually with their identities confirmed, their e-mail account was partially restored. The agent on the phone asked him to send an e-mail to himself. The e-mail showed in the sent file but was never received. Eventually it was discovered that someone had hacked into the e-mail account and left instructions to forward all mail to. . . .
Once the false instructions were removed, the e-mail service was restored. What a mess. Hopefully no one was foolish enough to send money to the hackers as instructed. Certainly this is a lesson for us all to learn. Beware of internet security and be on guard for e-mails that were not sent by the person you think is the sender.
Of course, it also stimulated my creative juices. Let’s see now. What if a villain wanted to. . . ? What if the hero accidentally made himself vulnerable by. . . ? How could a villain accomplish. . . ? What could the hero do to protect himself. . . ? Of course all kinds of innocent third parties could be drawn into this, and law enforcement agencies might play their parts. I think I have just had an inspiration for another story.