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.

An Old Friend

I was sitting at my desk last Friday, attending to the work-related task of the moment, when I heard my cellphone ring.

“Who on earth is calling me in the middle of the afternoon?” I muttered as I answered the call.

It was my friend Melissa, who lives in Ottawa.

“Guess what?” she asked.

Turns out that a mutual friend of ours – a dude named Chad, who I knew as a child in Scarborough, and whom she knew as a teenager in Windsor – had finally joined Facebook. She somehow discovered this and contacted him via e-mail.

“You should send him a friend request – you can find him in my network!” she said.

I thanked her for letting me know, and soon after I hung up the phone, I went into my account and I did. Probably within the hour, he accepted.

I have to say, he was definitely someone I never thought I’d hear from again.

We were neighbourhood playmates. I lived at the beginning of the street; he and his family lived all the way on the other end of the cresent. We both attended the elementary school across the street.

Back then, he was a skinny kid, with a wispy cowlick almost always sticking up atop his head. And I don’t remember for how many years this was, but until his family moved away, I suppose we were as thick as thieves.

My parents always remember the times he’d come over, ring the doorbell and ask if I could come out to play, to which my dad would sometimes reply:

“Chadwick, go home.”

Those were the days.

I never knew what had happened to him until one night – in the infancy of my university days – when my then-new friend Melissa and I were talking, and she just happened to mention my old friend’s name. I suppose it was my personal introduction to the “degrees of separation”.

In any case, back to the present. I had a nice chat with him over Facebook Chat (the newfangled things kids these days come up with!) on Sunday afternoon.

He still lives in Windsor, but longs to move to Anguilla. (His obstacles are finding employment and affording the expensive real estate prices.) He works part-time at a hospital – I’m assuming as medical staff, since he got his medical degree in the West Indies. He doesn’t watch or read the news; “ignorance is bliss”, he says.

And he’s no longer the scrawny, cow-licked kid I used to play and ride bikes with.

It seems we’re also two of a kind – we’re both the same age and still party a lot. What can I say? We both believe in being very social.

We got around to talking about the old neighbourhood. He said when he happens to be in Toronto (which he only does when visiting family, ’cause he hates Toronto), he sometimes drives past the old ‘hood for kicks. And he can’t help but think about how small that house seems to him now … how things seemed so simple back then, but how we were content with what we had. 

I actually miss those days from time to time.

We wrapped up our online chat shortly after and promised to keep in touch. I hope we do. It was nice talking to him again after so long. Besides, kindred spirits like that are hard to find.


Weird Facebook Moment # 1

Happy belated St. Patrick’s Day!

I was just updating my Facebook profile, responding to friend requests and generally writing on people’s walls when it just occurred to me:

Within the last three weeks or so – in addition to being contacted by old classmates – my friend list now includes a former boyfriend, and two previous crushes.

For all I know, they’ll probably just end up being FFiNOS (Facebook Friends in Name Only). But it’s still kinda, sorta weird, making my world that much smaller.

Sound Off: FINOs…

There’s something that’s reeeeally beginning to annoy me a bit about Facebook (and maybe life in general).

You know those people who request to add you as one of their friends, and then proceed to never talk to you, or leave a message on your wall? Nothing?

They’re in this new special category I’ve created, which I call Friends in Name Only, or FiNOs. (Or, in the case of Facebook, they’d be called FFiNOs.)

WHY do they DO that? I know it’s tempting finding all these people and adding them to your lucrative list. But it’s not a contest. And believe me, I actually understand that you can’t talk to everyone all the time.

But once in a while, holla at a sista, yo?

I’m sure you could apply this concept outside Facebook as well. I’m sure there are tonnes of people who are like that. They say they’re your friends, but then don’t do anything, or are never around.

And I don’t mean periods of time where they’re around you lots, or here and there, and then disappear because of work, life, or whatever (because I’m sure I’m an extremely guilty party in that respect).

I mean, they’re NEVER. AROUND. You “befriended” them in 1999 and, even though you might exchange a “hi!” in passing them that one time every three years or so, you now only hear about their lives through other people, who basically tell you stuff as if you still do talk to them regularly (even though the truth’s to the contrary). That’s the only reason you know they’re even still alive.

I think I may have one of those circulating right now. And maybe they have their reason for doing so. Maybe they ARE just busy. Or it’s part of the psychological game they like to play with certain people in their lives.

But if this is true, I’d rather that they didn’t add me (or have me) as a friend in the first place.