By IKU KIRIYAMA
(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on Feb. 24, 2010)
On Friday, Feb. 10, I went through a harrowing experience. The night before, after having been online using my email all day, all of a sudden, I couldn’t get into my email. My password kept being rejected as “invalid.”
What was happening was this: whenever I replied to a message, a letter would pop up in the message box. I hadn’t opened any suspicious mail in the Spam folder – NEVER. Yet, this letter, that was trashed, appeared whenever I replied to someone I knew. He also invaded NEW messages. Before I could type my message, there his letter was. He said he was a Portugal native, dying of esophageal cancer and wanted to give his money to churches and requested my help to distribute millions of dollars. We’ve all seen those, right?
I called AT&T tech support but she told me she couldn’t do anything, and I would have to open a new account at Billing. This was after failed attempts of telling her I was the email account holder. She kept saying I wasn’t on the account and a James Somers was. She asked me a security code question: Who’s your favorite singer? I couldn’t remember and tried two attempts (that’s all the guesses you’re allowed). After a half hour, I learned she was a Tier 1 tech – THAT’S the reason. I’ve never talked to a Tier 1 tech who could help.
The Billing operator was very helpful and tried getting help, but, in the end, she couldn’t help either and said that Tech Support is the one who can get into the email system. She did establish that I was the account holder, but only for billing statements – so I would PAY for the Internet/email account but I couldn’t get in! And the name she had was James Thomas, not Somers. After a long time, she said she would transfer me to a Tier 2 tech. However, I unknowingly got a Tier 1 again and we went through the same thing, before I was finally transferred to a Tier 2.
The Tier 2 tech said AT&T tracks calls and notes the purpose. The tech said, “Yeah, it says here that you were ready to close your account with AT&T totally (well, yeah, after nearly 3 hours of a run-around and having to PROVE I own the account, why would I stay?). I asked him if the note says what the result of that call was, and he said no. I said that’s dumb. He said James Thomas had hacked into Personal Information, which allowed him to actually read my information – no dot-dots – actual written information. This James had deleted my name and entered his. HE was able to answer who “my” favorite singer was (I STILL don’t know my answers!). James had also changed my password to HIS. So, with the Tier 2 tech, I was able to change everything back, revising my password slightly.
After 3 hours, I went back to my email box, and when I went to do a reply, HIS letter popped in. I yelled, “Oh, no. He’s back!” But he wasn’t James Thomas. His name was Thomas James. It was the first time that I had looked at the name in the letter. I called AT&T again, got a Tier 2 tech. She figured out what still had to be done to get rid of James Thomas – his name in their system – and went in on her side. I’m not saying what finally seems to have solved the problem, in case Thomas James subscribes to the Rafu and finds out!
So, FOUR hours later, I was back on. I was exhausted. The box showed that there were 23 “mailer daemon” emails (rejected). I opened one to see whose email it was, but it was no one I even knew. Phew! A few hours later, there were six more, and so on, as the number of failed attempts decreased over about three days. I got another “mailer daemon” about two days later, so Thomas James is still trying to use my email. I was relieved that the three rejected emails I checked over three days were people I didn’t know.
Then, yesterday, I received an email from a friend, asking if I knew about this going around. But it was dated in that time before I called AT&T. If anyone reading this gets an email with my email address but sees a strange name before it, trash it. I am NOT sending “Greetings to you,” which will be in the “subject” box.
There’s nothing that I can tell you not to do. I don’t open mail if I don’t recognize the sender. Even though I had trashed all of them, this guy is so high tech he can invade an account at the service provider level. It doesn’t have anything to do with whether you open it or trash it. He still gets through.
What you need to do as soon as you can’t access your email account is to call your service provider, tell them you have the same problem as a friend did and insist on speaking to a Tier 2 tech support. You will find out immediately that you have the same problem when they tell you your name is not the owner of the email account.
I saw in George’s (Horse’s Mouth) column on February 17 the story about Mark Miyake who was a victim of scam email. I received that email also from a few friends before one came in saying it was a hoax. How terrible that someone could smear your good name and never get caught. Too bad these obviously smart people can’t do something GOOD with their skills. That story prompted me to share my experience with you Rafu readers about hackers into email accounts.===
So, everyone out there – BEWARE.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.