The Hack

A couple of weeks ago hundreds of email addresses in my contact list found the following message in their early morning inboxes:

“i am so sorry to bother you with this message but i got no choice, I need to get An Apple gift card for my niece, it’s her birthday today, but i can’t do that due to the pain am having on my knees now. Could you please get them from any store around you? I’ll pay back. Kindly let me know if you can handle this? Thanks, Regan Burke”

When I retired a few years ago, I weaned myself from compulsively opening emails before wiping sleep from my eyes. So when I entered a busy common area in my building headed out to walk the dog, I was surprised to be greeted by fellow residents calling out, ‘Are you ok? What do you need?’ Even the doorman caught up to me to hand over a note from the building manager, “Change your password. Your email was hacked.” 

One incoming neighbor bogged down with groceries said he knew the strange email wasn’t me because the grammar was so bad. That’s nice. To be known as a good writer.

But when email responses to the hacker started hitting my inbox, my equilibrium wobbled off its tracks. Acquaintances I hadn’t been connected to in years started questioning my need:

Regan, I have this unusual email from you asking me to buy your niece an apple gift card. I am concerned.

Regan, I’m sorry, I can’t do that today. I could get one tomorrow late afternoon and drop it off. Would that work? If so, where do you live?

The next few hours, days, and, weeks (!), were a fast and furious miasma of Google searches and You Tube queries on how to fix a hacked email. Change the password in your computer and your phone. Forward all incoming to your other email account (unused result of long ago clickbait about security). Change email addresses and passwords at banks, doctor’s offices, the pension office, Amazon, Etsy, Social Security—get the picture?

Image result for hacker email examplesWell into the Fix, an email appeared from Microsoft announcing unusual sign-in activity from Nigeria. Nigeria? Too much of a cliche. I ignored it. By the time I sought online help from Microsoft I was 50% into the Fix and wasted an hour in Microsoft Chat. The Chat used the same bad grammar as the email that triggered my friends to alert me. Was this the hacker?

The curiosity demon woke me at 3:00 a.m. and goaded me into googling Nigerian Hackers. The headlines alone scared me into the kitchen in search of chocolate comfort. 

  • 8 Cunning New Nigerian Scams
  • How The FBI Caught Nigerian Most Wanted Hacker (Ray Hushpuppi)
  • Nigerian alleged Bank Hacker, arrested over 1.868bn 

When I finally got to my voicemails, expecting soothing sympathetic concern, I heard:  “Regan. This is Inez. I got a message from you asking for help.  I want you to know I would never help you because, well, I don’t like you. You need to call me back.”

I didn’t.