Help, My Email Account's Been Hijacked!
The "I'm writing this with tears in my eyes..." Scam
This morning, my wife and I woke up to find out that someone had broken into her account, locked us out by changing the password, and sent the following email to everyone she had ever been in contact with:
I'm writing this with tears in my eyes, I’m sorry i didn't inform you about my trip, I had a trip to the United Kingdom and a bizarre thing happened to me. I was mugged at a gun point last night, it happened at the park of the Hotel were i lodged but thank God i wasn't hurt, all cash, credit card and cell-phone were stolen off me...but luckily for me i still have my life and passports with me, I was able to make contact with the UK Police and i was directed to the Embassy, but they seems to be taking things too slow.
I need your help so urgently.. My flight leaves pretty soon but i am having problems sorting out the hotel bills I need a quick loan to get things fixed out here, I promise to refund as soon as i get back home.. Please reply asap. So i can tell you what to do and how to get the money to me.
Hope to read from you soon.
We later discovered that anyone who responded to the email received this in response:
Glad to hear back from you. It has really been embarrassing for me.$1,520 will cover all my expenses but i will appreciate whatsoever you can afford to wire right now, I promise to refund it to you as soon as I arrive home. You can wire it to my name from a western union outlet around. Here are the details you need to get it to me;
Name - <removed>
Location - Edinburgh,United Kingdom.
I still have my passport so I can use it as identification, e-mail me the transfer details and the confirmation number include the amount sent.
We have several hours today trying to undo the damage that was done. The perpetrator unsuccessfully tried to log into my wife's Facebook and bank accounts. And once we finally regained control of her account, we found that they had erased all of her contacts so that we could not warn anyone that it was a hoax. They had changed the account to forward all incoming messages to a fake yahoo account. We even found an email that had been sent from her account that had someone else's emails, passwords and birth date!
If you find that your email (or someone that you know) has been hacked in this way, these are the steps that I would recommend that you IMMEDIATELY follow. The longer you wait, the more your bank, paypal, online store accounts are in danger of fraudulently charging your bank cards, and the more likely your contacts will fall for it and send them money.
1. Secure your bank accounts and credit cards
First things first. You got to make sure that your hacker isn't
funneling money out of your bank account or buying a Lamborghini in
Luxembourg. Call your bank right now and inform them that your account
information has likely been compromised. They can immediately look and
see if anything has been charged to your account and reverse it. They
will probably also want to freeze your debit and credit cards, and may
even suggest that you close your account and open a new one.
2. Report to Gmail that your address has been compromised
My wife uses gmail so everything will relate to them. If you use something else, you will have to find the appropriate pages for them.
do this by going to Gmail, clicking on "Can't access your account,"
choosing the "My account has been compromised" option, clicking on the
"account recovery form" link that appears, and following the link that
takes you to, which should be here.
Enter your email address.
At this point, gmail told us that they sent instructions to her alternate email. The problem was that the hackers had changed her alternate to a new email they created at yahoo. Gmail said that if this was the case (or if you couldn't answer their security question, which we assume the hackers also changed), you should go here to report it.
Gmail said it could take as long as 24 hours for them to process the report. Luckily, they got back to us in about 20 minutes, just in time to find an email resetting her Facebook password. We apparently stopped them in the nick of time from sending this same message to all of her Facebook contacts!
3. Fix Your Email Settings and Warn Others
You can log into your account but you still don't have control of it. Our hacker set the account to forward all incoming messages to another account so they cold give details of where to send the money. This is how you can stop that from happening:
Click on "Settings" in the upper right hand corner and choose the "Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab in the middle. Under "Forwarding" you will now see where the hackers and redirecting your email to. Make a note of that email and then select "Disable forwarding," scroll down to the bottom of the page and select "save changes."
Now you should warn people that your account has been hacked, you are ok, and they should not send money. If they erased all of your contacts, as they did my wife's, the only thing you can do is respond to the concerned people who email you back. The best and easiest way to do this is to to to the "General" tab (still under "Settings"), scroll down to the "Vacation Responder," turn it on and write a quick note in it like this:
My account was hacked earlier this morning and an email was sent out claiming I was mugged in the UK and needed money sent. None of this is true. DO NOT SEND MONEY. They also deleted my contacts so I have not been able to notify everyone of this until they email me. I am pretty sure I have my account secured again, but if you want to be sure to be safe, you can email me through my other email at ...
to scroll down to the very bottom and click "Save changes." You will
probably already have several concerned emails in your trash (not inbox,
remember when they forwarded your email to their account they asked
gmail to delete the messages). MOve them all to the inbox and give them
all a quick reply like the one above. Don't take too long, you still
have more to do!
4. Secure your accounts
If you haven't done so already, change your Gmail password right now by going to the "Settings" again (upper right hand corner), select the "Accounts and Imports" tab this time, scroll to the bottom and click on "Google account settings." On the new page, under "Personal account settings" > "Change password" you can do it. Come up with a new password that uses letters, numbers, and maybe even a symbol like %.
Chances are that you used your
email password for other sites too. Try to remember which ones and go
around changing them, starting with the ones that have your credit card
information like PayPal, Amazon.com, etc. Don't forget social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter that could be carrying more messages!
5. Report the Fraud
Finally, you should report the incident to (maybe) get it investigated and clean up loose ends.
- Remember that email that they were forwarding your messages to? Go to that website (in my wife's case, yahoo mail) and report it to them.
- Report the incident to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
a message here and warn everyone about the latest email scam. (copy and
paste the actual email in the comment so we can all look out for it!)
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