A SOJOURNER'S VIEW: To be hacked in Cyberspace. By Karl M. Gaspar, CSsR

The first time I received an email from a friend – two years ago – indicating that he was in London, was in need of urgent financial help because he lost his wallet and other valuables and would appreciate a quick transfer of funds, my compassionate heart immediately skipped a beat.

I did consider immediately how I could rush my financial help to him and checked out if I had enough money.

It seemed believable because my friend traveled a lot.  However, I re-read the message and sensed that it wasn't his writing style at all.  I also knew he was a very careful traveler; I've never heard him lose anything, especially while traveling abroad.

Still, part of me insisted that my friend needed help and I should act quickly as he needed immediate assistance.

Fortunately, it was easy enough to contact some of his best friends by text to find out if they, too, heard about the tragedy faced by our mutual friend.

While that seemed like the most sensible thing to do, that is, to call others to check out the information, it was only later that the idea came.  And I was, indeed, glad I did so before getting into a transfer of funds, no matter how little I could have offered.

One friend I contacted had an earlier experience of hacking in the cyberspace so he laughed when I asked him about our friend's predicament. He quickly told me I had received a hoax message and that our mutual friend was a victim of hacking in cyberspace!

That was my first actual experience of knowing about hacking through the internet.  In the last two years, I would either be receiving such hoax messages or hearing about someone being victimized.  My sister was informed she has thousands of pounds to be collected with some bank in London if she filled up some forms and send in some money to pay for expenses in processing the release of funds.  A confrere e-mailed saying that he was a victim of a robbery and needed money immediately.  A religious Sister who
I used to work with also sent an e-mail that she needed assistance for health reasons.  And there were more.  There was always a desperate call for help which was to be in the form of money, either pounds or dollars.

In the past six months, more friends and associates sent word that their e-mails were hacked.  It did make me think: at the rate more and more people were victimized, how soon would be my turn?

Well, it didn't take long for me to be included in this list of victims.  Early in the morning a week ago, I got an SMS from a friend which began with Ha! Ha! Ha!  And the rest of the text message indicated that my e-mail was hacked.

I opened my e-mail address and it was gone. All the files I had kept were gone as there was no way I could retrieve my e-mail address.  It disappeared into cyberspace; someone stole it from me.

Indeed, I felt I was robbed; my precious property in cyberspace was snatched from my fingers.

Within hours, landline and cell phone calls as well as SMS messages came one after another.   Those familiar with the modus operandi of the hackers giggled and laughed at my expense. Others were genuinely concerned and expressed their sympathy as they knew the inconvenience I was facing.  But there were a few who told me that they were on the verge of believing the hoax messages but had the good sense to check it out with me first what really happened.

Fortunately,  I had a standby e-mail address by way of gmail.  I immediately sent out hundreds of emails to all those in my correspondence circle, including those I haven't heard from in a long while.  There were only three main points: do not believe the hoax message (especially: Please! Please! Please! don't send any money at all!), check out my new e-mail address and that I wished they would never become victims.

Indeed, the whole episode would turn to be quite an irritant, a big inconvenience. It's taken a whole week to take in all the calls, answer all the e-mail messages and explain what happened. 

It is a most interesting experience though, I must say.  I believe that any misfortune could be a source of valuable lessons in life. I was most affirmed by the compassion and sympathy expressed by all those within my circle.  And I realized that the great majority of these people have high IQ.  Most could easily tell that the message was a hoax as they knew my style of writing was very different from that of the hacker. They also knew that I do not commit as many grammatical errors as the hacker.

A victim wrote immediately giving his theory as to how he and I got victimized. And this is his warning to all who are in the yahoo system.  One channel that leads to being hacked could be when one receives a YAHOO ALERT indicating that the receiver should answer the questions the posting requires. Failure to do so would lead to being disconnected from Yahoo. There are only three questions asked: your name, your email address and your country or territory.

Since I didn't want to be disconnected, I typed the answers and sent them to cyberspace. Three days later, I got hacked. Could this be the channel?  My friend says it is since he has been looking into the cause of the hacking.

So watch out for that YAHOO ALERT.

Meanwhile it is goodbye time for me as far as Yahoo is concerned.  Which is a shame as Yahoo has been such a help to me since I learned the mechanics of e-mailing. 

Did someone in my circle actually believe in the hoax message and sent money to the hacker? 

Unfortunately, there was one. A friend in Europe believed the hoax e-mail as he believed the word that reached him about my abduction by the military in 1983.  He thought I was again in a very precarious situation and wanted to respond as quickly as he could. There was no time to check out with his contacts in the Philippines. He got the money and sent them through Western Union pronto. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar of Davao City, former head of the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team and author of several books, including "To be poor and obscure," and "Mystic Wanderers in the Land of Perpetual Departures," writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English [A Sojourner's Views] and the other in Binisaya [Panaw-Lantaw].)