DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/02 August) — “MONEY BADLY NEEDED” –Early dawn three days ago, I heard a message alert from my cellphone. I saw it was from my daughter Ning, who lived next door, alerting me that she got in her email inbox a mail purportedly coming from me saying that I was stuck in UK (England) because I lost my wallet and I needed money badly. “Either you left for UK without us knowing it or you’re here next door, in which case you’re hacked again!”, she texted. I spent the rest of the wee hours of the morning sending messages to friends (and foes alike) informing them of my predicament that my email address [email protected] was taken over by some unidentified persons. I asked them to ignore messages using that account.
“Sh_t!” I knew this feeling because when I was Press Secretary some three years ago, my email account was also hacked and compromised. At that time, I was sending by email some sensitive memos to PGMA and other members of the cabinet and other officials. I was worried for a while that the “hackers” were after confidential memos. Happily, they appeared to be doing a scam for quick money.
SAME TACTIC –Very much like what happened three years ago, this recent hacking has a similar modus operandi. Somehow they are able to “hijack” your email account, perhaps by being able to steal your password and email all whose names are saved in your list of contacts making it appear that it was coming from me. I could not even enter my own account to countermand the scam. They must have quickly changed the password for that account hence I could not use it anymore. It was total capture and I appeared helpless.
The email to all my friends and contacts, coming from me reads as follows:
I know this may come as a surprise for you, but I have to get to that in this way and I apologize for not informing you about my urgent trip to the UK. I was here to do an urgent project and all went well until I got robbed on my way back to the hotel and lost my wallet, my two mobile phones and some valuables during this incident. I had to block my bank account and my credit cards immediately after the incident occurred. I am facing a hard time here because I have no money on me to clear my hotel bills and some expenses. I send this message to inform you that I’m stuck in the moment and need your help with a loan of $2,900.USD which is approximately £2,300.GPB to clear the accounts and make arrangements to return home. Please advise if you can loan me the amount and I know it seems a lot of money, but I promise to return the money as soon as I return home since I don’t have access to my bank accounts and cards. You can kindly help me remit the money through Western Union Money Transfer.
Please kindly help me remmit the money to the name and address below at Western Union :
Name: Jesus G. Dureza Address: 144 Renfrew Street City: Glasgow State: Scotland Country : United Kingdom Postal Code: G3 6RF”
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VICTIM BEFORE –Luckily, in this recent hacking, I had back-up listing of my contacts in my alternate email address and I was able to dispatch to all and warned them about what happened. After being a victim before, it was not as bad this time. I even texted and emailed some friends saying that they should ignore the appeal for money. But if they would really insist on sending me money, “please send it to Davao where I am and not to UK as the scammers wanted.”
In the incident three years ago, I even went to the extent of contacting the Philippine embassy in London and asking some personnel to visit the “Western Union” addressee that was mentioned in the email where the money should be sent . I wanted to prevent the “contributions” from our unsuspecting “benefactors” from reaching the hands of the scammers. I also asked that if there were money remittances, that they should be forwarded to me in Davao so this could be returned to those who fell for the scam. There was no pouch forwarded to me in Davao up to now.
QUICK REPLIES —In this recent hacking, I was not really stressed out. In fact, I had fun contacting by text and email some friends whose names I knew were in my “contacts” box and whom I presumed got the “urgent appeal for money”. And I got quick replies. For example, my friend Gil Gonzales, vice president of SM Investments in Manila texted me and jokingly said: “Oops. I already sent! Please reimburse.” When I met Bobby Orig of Davao Light in a chamber meeting at the Apo View in Davao the following day, he told me the scammer committed a mistake. He said: “I saw that your email also included your name as an addressee. So I immediately knew it was a scam”. But I should have asked Bobby if he would really send money to me if that plea was for real. If his answer would be yes, I would have collected the amount there and then!
MORE RESPONSES —I got another email from Melo Acuna of Radio Veritas in Manila saying he was also similarly hacked before and he also sought the help of the Department of Foreign Affairs then. But he got no response at all. “Can I expect help from this present government if this happens again?” he asked. I dunno, Melo! Ms. Carolyn Eguchi of the East West Center in Honolulu was also a bit concerned. We are in the midst of preparing for the coming Mindanao visit of American journalists middle of August. Don’t worry Carolyn, things are on track. “Mahalu!”
Another friend and relative in the US, Romy Garzon, was more frantic. When he received his mail, he immediately called my office and insisted to speak with me. When the clerk said I was out, he left a message saying “this is an emergency” and asked to call him because something serious happened. About that time he was calling, I already blasted to friends about the incident. Romy would be one person who would have sent money to me if I was really in trouble. If you read this Romy, you can still send some to me in Davao. Hahaha!
Undersecretary Merly Cruz of the Department of Trade and Industry in Manila was also an early texter: “Check your email boss. You’ve been hacked!” A former staffer from Ulas, Davao City Nanette Aclon Magano who now happily resides in Japan said she was worried that with the hacking, she would not be able to read my weekly blog anymore. There will be no interruption, Nanette.
Many more interesting feedbacks are coming in. I will reserve them for next time. “Goggle”, when informed of the hacking, emailed us saying there’s still a chance I can retrieve the same email address. But in the meantime I can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]
CRYING “WOLF”? : At the rate this is happening to me, I am worried that next time when an urgent appeal for help is for real, no one will respond. Like the parable of that shepherd boy who cried “wolf”, remember? After the first and second call for help by shouting “wolf”, the responding friends found out he was only pulling their leg. But one day, a real wolf did come and he shouted “wolf” on top of his voice for help. Everyone thought he was still joking. No one came. The “wolf” devoured all his sheep. When the time comes, I guess I’ll just have to personally take care of the wolf myself.