Voice of the People
Identity Theft and Internet Fraud
By Thomas Emmon Pisano
Recently, I was the victim of an attempted identity theft. The thieves used a fake msn email alert to coerce me into divulging some of my personal information so they could gain access to my email account (firstname.lastname@example.org). The first fake email letter, which was on msn letterhead and using all their logos, stated that my account needed to be verified because of their inundation with fake email registrations and that my account was under scrutiny and subject to shut down. I wrote back, "no way am I giving out any of the information you are requesting." The second email letter was more forceful: "you have 24 hours to respond with the right information or your account will be shut down." There were forms with the email alerts, which asked for email address, password, date of birth and country. Like a babe in the woods, I filled out the form, as if I just had fallen off the turnip truck, I caved and went with the program and sent them the information they requested. At three in the morning, I woke up with a weird feeling in my gut. I went to my computer and logged on to the system, then I tried to access my hotmail.com email account, nothing, again, and again I tried, still no access. I felt panic. At first, I thought it was msn hotmail live shutting me down for their own reasons. Then, as my mind began to clear, I decided to check my other email accounts. And there they where, emails from my hotmail.com account telling me that I was in England, London to be exact, and that I had had a mishap with my wallet and I needed 800 pounds to tide me over until my finances could be straightened and that I would repay the loan when I returned to the States. I have never been to England. To say the least I was floored and I had regained that sense of panic I had experienced earlier. I couldn't move I was paralyzed and I had gone brain dead from the excessive adrenalin in my system. I now knew what had happened; I had been ripped by some slick cyber-thieves in England. Sending me an email 'scam letter' from my own email contact list (I keep alternate emails and their addresses in each email addresses list) was definitely a mistake on the criminal's part, I was alerted prematurely to their plan because of this. I had a slight advantage. I had to act fast to prevent them from acquiring all the internet things which had passwords that could be found in my emails. Because each of these companies that use passwords and user names send you information and verifications via email when actions are taken with your accounts, credit card stuff as well can be linked to the passwords and accounts. From now on, I am destroying all verifications that come via email. I began to move fast, from object to object I tried my passwords; some of the sites and services I could access, but some were closed. I changed the passwords where I could, but the rest of the things that had been compromised, I destroyed by calling the companies on the telephone and having the services stopped immediately. Credit card sites and websites I closed as quickly as I could until every thing was under my control again. I went to the places where I had conducted business in the past and re-established certain things I needed to stay in business, one was a website. I set up a new one and immediately posted a public disclaimer, so if any of my friends or people who know me could catch what had happened in my own words. Below is the notice I have at present on my web site on the page titled: soapbox. A PUBLIC DISCLAIMERI HAD TO BUILD a Completely NEW WEB SITE BECAUSE HACKERS GRABBED MY IDENTITY. I WAS TRICKED INTO BELIEVING MY EMAIL ACCOUNT NEEDED VERIFICATION, THEY USED A PHISHING TECHNIQUE TO STEAL MY PASSWORD AND IDENTITY. THAT'S OKAY, I GIVES AS GOOD AS I GETS, THE LAW SHOULD BE KNOCKING ON THE HACKER'S DOOR RIGHT ABOUT NOW. THE BUMS DIDN'T GET JACK!ANOTHER THING: THESE THIEVES ARE SENDING OUT BOGUS EMAILS TELLING EVERY address ON MY CONTACT LIST THAT I NEED MONEY FOR AN EMERGENCY, IT IS A LIE AND DO NOT RESPOND TO THESE CRIMINALS. THE NAME THEY ARE USING IS THOMAS PISANO; MY LEGAL NAME IS THOMAS EMMON PISANO. STILL, THE EMAIL ADDRESS THEY ARE USING IS email@example.com, do not believe anything coming from this email account it is in the hands of the enemy. I WANT TO DISAVOW ANY KNOWLEDGE OF THESE UNDERHANDED INDIVIDUALS. PLEASE DO NOT SEND ME ANY MONEY, BUT PLEASE EMAIL ME AT THIS ADDRESS: firstname.lastname@example.org., IF YOU HAVE ANY INFORMATION ABOUT THESE KINDS OF SCAMS. Again, let me apologize for all the aggravation that has resulted from the loss of my email account to these unscrupulous persons. Thank you for your time, Thomas Emmon Pisano. Now that a little time has passed and I have implemented precautions that are best kept to myself; I find that the experience helped me and made me able to cope with all this new danger. For example, I had to learn things about passwords and the places you have to look in order to change them. And, that if you loose your password to cyber-thieves you have a very short window of opportunity in which to change the word. It is a race to see who can stop what the fastest. It was a wake up call and it alerted me to a threat that is dangerous and real. Another thing the people on the Microsoft Hotmail Live Team were beyond a doubt the best during this whole thing. Glen, one of their customer support people, walked me through the whole crisis and was very understanding. If I had followed their information a little closer I would have resolved the issue a day sooner, but I was in a state of suspicion during that time and could not have done it any better, still it all worked out for the best. I have control of my email account again and it has been checked over to detect any hidden booby traps or viruses, there are none. From what I understand, this thing was put together on foreign soil; either in London or in Senegal from the information I had acquired when I retrieved my email account. I am now in the investigation phase of this crime. I am interested in getting to the bottom of these criminals and finding who they are. I am also interested in shining a light on them, because I believe no criminal should be denied the light of justice. When I get more information on these cyber-criminals and their organization, if any, I will send it along in my column. There are a lot of financial threats coming from foreign sources, the endless Nigerian scam, I must get one of these soft-soap letters a week, and the fake British Lottery, twice a month at the very least. Now there is this 'phishing' thing were the enemy tries to steal your personal information by using fake credentials, logos, and letterheads from real sources. Is there no way legitimate companies can prevent anyone from copying their official graphics and data? Here we have another thing that is weakening our economy, the violation of our financial information by crooks using computers and the internet. We must do our part to control the wolves that are preying on us out in cyber-space. The internet is a world like the real world and should be subject to laws that supersede borders and make crimes there punishable with sever jail time and stiff monetary fines. However, some of the criminals are smart they know that if they are in a certain part of the world we can't touch them; you watch what happens next in the saga of the cyber-criminals, let's see how well they prevail. I now have a new website: www.thomasemmonpisano.com, it is better than the old website: www.a-mystery-machine.com. I have gotten my email account back and I reinstated all the services that I had shut down during the crisis. My things are for sale again and I am on the road to recovery. The most important thing I learned from this catastrophe was that I had to keep my head and not let my emotions overwhelm my thought processes. "Fear is the mind killer."p.s. I need to write everyone who received a bogus letter from the cyber-thieves an apology and a thank you for their patients.
|Identity Theft and Internet Fraud|
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Mr. Thomas Emmon Pisano, an electronics-engineer-turned professional writer, serves as US correspondent for The Seoul Times. A New Jersey native he has lived in California. He has started his writing career in 2003 and has authored four books including “No Murder Too Small” and Big Crimes Small Miracles.”