Hacked!

With all the different Web sites, blogs, social networking sites and the like, it’s easy to let one’s guard down and forget that, despite all the various PIN numbers and passwords one can have, these things can still be invaded by hackers and scam artists.

Case in point:

A couple of hours ago, I was on the Facebook for the upteenth time – as I’m usually wont to do – and I decided to check the Chat feature to see who was online.

I saw one of my friends online, with a status line update which read, URGENT HELP!!!” This obviously caught my attention, and I instant messaged her to see if she’s okay and whether she found the help she needed.

My friend wrote back that she’s stuck in an airport in London.

I was confused, so I typed back, “London, Ontario?”

My friend wrote back that she was on vacation at a resort, and she was robbed and was trying to get home.

This immediately struck me as strange. I knew she just returned from Ottawa visiting friends, and Kingston staying with her parents. So this made no sense to me whatsoever.

Plus, I know my friend’s got pets – if she were going to take a trip overseas, she’d make sure they were being looked after before she took off.

This was enough for me to pick up the phone and call her apartment.

Sure enough, my worst fears were confirmed when my friend picked up the phone – and explained to me that someone had hacked into her Facebook account within the last day, changing the e-mail address on her profile, and preventing her from getting in (at least, that’s what I remember, but I could be wrong on this part of the story).

I told my friend I had the hacker online at that very moment, asking me if I could help “her” out.

My friend explained that she tried e-mailed the Facebook folks at least a dozen times from the time she realized what was happening. (They have yet to respond.)

She added that the only other thing she could do is find a way to track the person down – if she had an address.

I kept the hacker on long enough to find out how they wanted the money to be sent (Western Union) – as where they wanted it sent.

Bingo. I worked as fast as my fingers would let me and sent the addreess to my friend’s (real) e-mail address – while the hacker was asking, “Are you going there (the Web site) now?” How brazen.

I managed to sign off of Facebook chat shortly after this – hopefully without arousing suspicion, but who knows? – and promptly removed my friend’s account from my list of friends.

I can only hope now that my friend can get things sorted out – and get the authorities to track the culprit down. What a way for her new year to start out, hey?

Now, it’d be pretty easy for those of you who aren’t Facebook members -and refuse to do so for various reasons, personal security among them – to point the finger and say “See? Told you it wasn’t a good idea.”

But you know what? It doesn’t really matter. This could happen to anyone, using any type of electronic vehicle.

But this episode does serve as a reminder to people to be aware if they use any kind of Web site, blog or anything – even to people who notice that maybe there’s something amiss when they receive strange e-mails from friends or even stranger instant messages.

Now more than ever, we need to exercise vigilance. The world may be big and hard to control at times – but so’s the Internet.

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