Cybercrime hits Hudson woman
Even if you think you are computer savvy, think again. How many of you have received an e-mail message from a relative, friend or grandchild proclaiming they are in need of money due to a tragic accident? Many delete the often poorly written letters without regard. The criminals have upped-the-ante by creating longer, more believable statements including multiple family member's names and friends referenced in the body of the text.
Town of Hudson resident Julie Burkhart-Haid knew immediately that something was wrong when on the morning of Oct. 1 friends from all over the nation started to call her with concern.
"I got a phone call from a friend who said, 'Are you okay'," said Haid. "Within a couple of minutes the phone rang 20 to 25 times with friends checking on me."
They all had received a long e-mail message, ostensibly from Haid and her husband Joseph, detailing the fact that they had taken an unexpected trip to Wales and had been robbed at gunpoint. She was injured and nearly raped in front of her son (also identified) and Joseph was seriously injured and still being treated. It went on to say while they still had their passports, they needed $1,800 dollars to pay the hotel bill and buy return tickets. The twelve-line e-mail did not end there.
"From the first phone call I knew what had happened," said Haid, however, she didn't realize the extent of the problem until she tried to get online to find she had been locked out of both her e-mail and Facebook accounts. She received a message that her passwords had been changed.
"It must have happened late Thursday night," said Haid, who called her bank immediately.
According to the FBI website, claims of being stranded have swindled consumers out of thousands of dollars. It nearly happened to Haid's elementary art school teacher, who she recently got back in touch with.
"She actually took out a loan and showed up at the Western Union office ready to wire the requested $1,800," said Haid. "There was a little Western Union angel there who suggested she check with me directly to make sure this was legitimate."
Haid provided three examples of people who had been contacted and had responded to the initial e-mail in an attempt to verify if the claim was legitimate. The sophistication of the criminals allowed them to e-mail back and forth all the while posing as Haid and providing specific information about family members and details including an address to wire the money to.
One friend e-mailed that she thought it was a hoax but asked for identification of a set of rings Haid had made for her. The criminals came close using her husband's name but it just didn't sound right so she declined to send the money.
"I am very careful on the Internet," said Haid. "I don't open weird e-mails. I did receive one from a relative that looked safe but when I opened it there was nothing there. That might have been how this started."
The ordeal is not over yet. It took Haid ten days to get her e-mail account back. Facebook is still out of commission, and to make matters worse, all of her contacts are gone completely.
"What I have learned is this is not a virus, it is malware," said Haid, who has been working with Microsoft complaint division and has filed an online report with the FBI.
"It is just like a smash and grab burglary," said Haid. "I don't know how many people from my contact list received the e-mail."
"It was scary to read the e-mails, because in some cases the e-mail conversations went back and forth numerous times," said Haid. Even Hudson Prairie Elementary School Counselor Max Hansen received one. They all had the same subject line, "Urgent - Assistance Needed."
For more information, go to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov.
You may also visit this website to find out how to protect your computer, www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/computer_protect.
"I just want to help people," said Haid. "Make them aware."