I had an interesting experience this week. I was on Facebook when a friend started chatting with me via IM. It was someone I like but haven’t heard from much—someone from here in town. The first thing she said was that she needed my help urgently. I figured she needed help getting one of her daughters from somewhere. Then she said she was stranded in London and had gotten held up at gunpoint! Wow. What could I do to help her, I wondered. Take her dog out for a walk?
She was able to get a flight home, she said, but was having difficulty settling her hotel bill.
Before she even mentioned the hotel, I was starting to get suspicious, because I could tell that a request was about to involve money. Also, I hardly seemed the first person she’d turn to if she had any sort of proble.
And then she asked me, “Can I borrow some money?”
As if someone would actually ask that way, or if they did need to take care of a hotel bill overseas, they would ask an acquaintance to wire money.
“I’ll pay you tomorrow when I see you. It’s just for a short while. You know I can’t get the money without showing identification. Thank God I still have my passport!”
Okay, this was clearly not my friend. “Sorry, no, can’t do it,” I said, before reporting the account to Facebook as compromised.
Her account had been hacked; the hackers contacted several of her other friends, perhaps people more apt to fork over a few hundred dollars for her (but also friends who would know she wasn’t in London). I realized soon after that there were clues before the request to wire cash.
If you had an emergency, would IM-ing on Facebook be the first thing you’d do to try to find help? Would it be in the top 10? I suppose one advantage is that a lot of people use Facebook, and you can see who is on; you’re bound to catch someone, whereas with AIM, unless you have a huge contacts list, you might not find anyone on. But still. Phone? My sons might IM me if they needed something, but I can’t imagine anyone else doing so. For this generation, an emergency still merits a phone call.
And anyhow, how did she manage to get plane tickets but couldn’t settle the hotel bill? And wouldn’t she ask me to use my credit card to pay the bill, given that many hotels do not accept cash for payment? Wire money, indeed.
It pays to know that such scams exist, but if you stop and think for just a minute, it would be harder to fall for one of these than it would be to see through it.
Another thing, though, is that whoever hacked her account had access to her friends’ accounts—names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses. I don’t think that’s what they were after, but it does make you think a bit about how protected your info is on places like Facebook, even if you’ve taken care with your privacy settings. Basically, those hackers could have read anything on my page that my friend could read.
Weird feeling not posting on Wednesday. For now, I can’t do it, but I am going to have to think about it. I have some things going on that may prevent me from getting to next week’s posts, but I will do my damnedest.
Until then, have fun, and thanks for reading.