Early in the morning a couple of weeks ago Happy, the Vicar’s Apprentice who is also our lodger and all round good thing, was using the computer. He was logged into his Hotmail account, then logged out to do something else.
When he tried to log back in again his password didn’t seem to work. When he went to the fogotten password option, the details he put in didn’t seem to work in order to get him back into his account.
Later Happy’s mobile phone, which hardly ever rings, started to light up like the M5/M6 junction on a Friday afternoon. It was family and friends telling him that they’d received an email, purporting to be from him and sent from his Hotmail account. The email claimed that Happy was stuck in Nigeria and needing funds to get home.
So Happy telephoned everyone he could remember was on his email contact list. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a copy of his email contacts list. He was also able to get put a plea in to Hotmail to change his password back – he contacted them at their Windows Live ID Validation page with his details.
On Saturday Hotmail restored the account to Happy. Since he was away on a conference, I dealt with things for him. From his inbox, I could see that most people had spotted this for a hoax. However, a few friends, who don’t speak English as a first language, were fooled by the panicked sounding email, and offered to help out.
As I read further, I realised that two of Happy’s friends had actually sent money. One was able to put the £50 she sent down to experience – Happy managed to speak to her. However, the second friend sent far more – all her grant money for living on her foreign exchange in fact.
I immediately emailed all Happy’s contacts and told them not to send any money. The girl who’d sent the most money was able to put a stop to the second money transfer she was making. The way in which the hoaxer had manipulated her kindness was awful to read.
When Happy spoke to her last week she thought she might be able to recover the money, but it’s been a stressful road for her.
Once I’d sent the email, we logged out of the account and were immediately locked out again and had to go through the same application to Windows Live in order to regain access, which didn’t happen until a few days after that. Very frustrating!
There are a couple of things that we learnt from this episode that I’d now advise any user of an on-line etherspace account to do:
- Make a copy of your contacts list. Then if your account is hijacked and your friends asked to send money to Nigeria, you can open another email account and make them aware that it isn’t you!
- If you are locked out and regain access, don’t log out again until you’ve changed all the password and access information. When we finally got back into the account a second time we saw that Happy’s birthdate and other details (including alternate email address) had been changed.
Happy has now closed his Hotmail account and working at overcoming his phobia about using email. It felt like a real invasion of his privacy – not just the scam, but also the way in which the hoaxer replied to normal emails (like the one about the hymns for the evening services) purporting to be him. The scammer even signed the emails off with Happy’s normal greetings.
I don’t have a copy of all the correspondence (it didn’t seem to copy from the Hotmail account when I forwarded it) but here’s the original email asking for the money:
Subject: I URGENTLY NEED YOUR HELP…. GET BACK TO ME AS SOON AS YOU READ THIS EMAIL
To: “Happy ” <Happy@hotmail.co.uk>
Date: Thursday, 15 April, 2010, 10:06
How are you doing?hope all is well, I”m sorry that i didn’t inform you about my traveling to West Africa Nigeria concerning the welfare of the coming, 2010 FIFA World Cup that will be coming up in South Africa so am here in Nigeria now for an Urgent Seminar.I need a favour from you as soon as you receive this e-mail because i misplaced my wallet on my way to the hotel where my money is and other valuable things were kept, i will like you to assist me with a loan urgently. I will be needing the sum of 520 pounds to sort-out my hotel bills and get myself back home.I will appreciate whatever you can afford to help me with, i’ll pay you back as soon as i return. Kindly let me know if you can be of help? so that i can send you the details.
Your reply will be greatly appreciated
One friend of Happy’s said she knew it was a scam because he was claiming to be at a World Cup football event. She said she’d might have believed it if he’d been claiming to be at a world cake icing competition (Happy has a background in catering)!
I decided to post this today (it’s been sitting in my drafts file for a while) because someone I follow on Twitter just had their Hotmail account hijacked but managed to get back in pretty quickly. The Windows Live team took more than the promised 24hrs to get back with access details for Happy’s account because they are very busy just now. It could happen to you soon….