The Story About Being Hacked

While preparing to leave for a photo shoot, the phone rang at around 7:50 a.m.  A friend of mine on the other end of the call asked “Tom, where are you?”  I thought that was a strange question and a strange way to start a phone conversation.  In the next 15 or 20 minutes I took 5 more calls like the first one.  Everyone mentioned they received an email from me stating I had been robbed in London and needed help with the hotel bill.  At some point my emails were asking for financial help of upwards around $2,000.00.

With the phone ringing off the hook, I needed to leave for my photo shoot; I needed some way to deal with the calls.  I changed the greeting on our answering machine with an alert about the scam.  Before leaving, I wanted to change my passwords to put the mess to a halt.  At that point I discovered my internet access no longer worked.  Using another computer in the house, I found my email password did not work.  A quick check of face book found that password did not work either.  With little time left I needed to deal with the possibility of numerous phone calls about the scam.  Before leaving for my photo shoot, I started a scan of my computer.

After returning from my photo shoot, my computer scan was complete and no malware was detected.  Remember this comment for later.  The next step was to call AT&T tech support.  To prepare for this a new password was created. 

I spent the next 5 hours on the phone with AT&T internet tech support.  First the internet connection for my computer needed to be restored.  To accomplish this my password for the DSL modem/router was reset.  Afterwards, tech support helped reset my email password.  In addition tech support walked me through several other checks to make sure no other settings needed to be reset. 

Now that I had access to my email account, I found my entire address book had been deleted!  Over 1400 contacts were GONE!  My first thought was how can I ever recover them?  Anytime I’ve ever called AT&T support, the technician always asks “Is there anything else I can do for you”?  At that point I asked where the Yahoo address book data kept on my computer is.  I hoped it was in a file that I routinely back up.  The answer was – Your address book is kept on the Yahoo server.  Not exactly what I wanted to hear.  I asked tech support if my address book could be restored.  I was given a case number for my request and told it would be restored in 24 to 72 hours.  That was a HUGE relief!

Wednesday morning at the weekly DIBS Network meeting I checked my email to find my address book restored – all 1400+ contacts.  Hooray! 

The next task was to get my Face book account restored.  I logged onto their site and looked for a password reset/recovery link.  After some searching I found a link, completed the form thinking shortly I’d get a temporary password to use.  Nothing.  Next day, nothing.

On Friday I called my good friend Tony Brooks at TERKKS Computer service in Painesville.  Remember my earlier comment about the computer scan that was clean?  Within a few quick checks of my computer under Tony’s direction, he advised me a Trojan had taken over my computer.  “So Tony, What’s the solution?” I asked.  Tony replied – Reload the operating system!  Having done this myself in the past, I knew time was of the essence and agreed to have Tony do the reload. 

Saturday morning I showed up at TERKS with disks and computer in hand.  Tony looked over my computer and decided to try removing the Trojan.  During Tony’s review we discovered McAfee virus software.  However, the attempt to uninstall the McAfee software did not work.   Next Tony ran a software product called Stinger and viola – the Trojans (approximately 12 of them) had been uncovered and deleted.  I was on my way to freedom. 

Once the Trojans had been removed, McAfee could be successfully uninstalled.  Some of the checks by Tony that indicated a Trojan, were performed again and supported the Trojan was gone.  After around 7 hours at TERKKS, I was on my way home.

During this time, I completed form after form on line, trying to get someone’s attention at face book for help.  God, these internet companies have NO sense of customer service and dealing with people vocally.  All they can do is give you FAQ’s to read which are vague at best!   Finally on Monday, my face book account had been restored.  Yeah, I know – 6 days?  Wheww.

So, some lessons learned.  Watch any unexpected screens that indicate your computer is infected.  Don’t click on any part of the warning screen.  Instead, rely on scanning your computer, not some screen displayed as part of an email.  Keep your virus software and your operating system up-to-date.  Watch where you use the same password!  I used the same password on several sites.  I’ll start using a base password with several variations on it to minimize duplications.  In addition, I talked to Tony about a workshop on computer maintenance for business owners.  Things we should know to help protect our hardware, software and data.

Thanks to everyone who was patient with my situation and I hope no one was taken in by the scam.  Since this happened to me, I suggest you scan your computer and watch for any suspicious emails.  After all, the hackers who hit my computer now have your email address.  Good luck and thanks again!