Feeling sleepy, Damien leaned back on his pillow and pulled the laptop closer to him. He rubbed his eyes and typed into the chat screen “l8rs dude, zzzzzzz time”. Vusi replied “yup, me too, I hate having 1st lecture on a Monday, urgh”. Vusi signed off.
As he was closing down all his windows, Damien noticed he had an email in his gmail inbox. Wondering who would be emailing him this late, he clicked over and opened it. The email read:
Urgent account update!
Gmail has detected that your account details could be out of date and we need you to update them. Should you not do this, your account could be suspended.
Please reply to this email address with your username and password, followed by your mobile phone number so we can confirm the update with you.
The Google Team.
A bit suspicious, he checked out the address the email had come from. It said ‘email@example.com’ and seemed to have all the correct branding and fonts. “That’s got to be kosher,” he thought, relaxing. “Better do what they say, I guess.”
He hit reply and filled in his Gmail username and password as well as his cell number, hit send, and closed down Firefox. He closed the laptop and put it on his bedside table; he yawned, wriggled to get under his duvet and turned off the light.
Within 30 minutes he was fast asleep, when the message tone beeped on his cellphone. He mumbled when another one came through 20 minutes after that. After a further 3 messages, he half-woke, rolled over and switched the phone to silent.
He awoke to the sound of incessant buzzing, the early morning light piercing his curtains. He looked at the bedside clock…8am, he didn’t have to be awake until 11, who on earth would be calling him at this hour? He ignored the phone and pulled the duvet over his head. But the buzzing didn’t stop, not even for a little while…whoever was calling was not going to give up until he answered.
He groaned and rolled over, reaching his hand down to the floor where he had dropped the phone the previous night. He squinted at the screen, rubbing his eyes with his free hand. “MOM” flashed persistently. “Eish,” he thought, his heart jumping “this can’t be good news, she would never call me this early”. He hit the answer button.
“Ja, mom,” he said, yawning, “what’s up?”
“DAMIEN,” she shouted so loudly he was suddenly wide awake, “Just EXACTLY what do think you are doing swooping off to London without telling your father and me?”
“Wha..?” he started.
“And in the middle of term too? How do you expect to pass this semester if you just up and LEAVE halfway through? Your father and I will NOT be paying for you to repeat the year!”
“But..,” he said.
“And just WHERE did you get the money for the plane ticket?” she continued, “. REALLY Damien, just what did you think you would achieve? You’re chasing some girl, aren’t you?”
“Um, mom…,” he tried.
“It’s just TYPICAL, we never had this sort of trouble with your sister. And then to have the cheek to write and ask us for money to bail you out! It’s not like we’re made of money, you know!”
“MOM,” he shouted back,” I am NOT in London, I’m in my dorm room, WHAT are you on about? I’ve never been to London in my life!”
She sniffed then, and seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. He heard her muffle the phone as she spoke to someone in the background.
“We had an email from you,” she said, “late last night. It basically said, ‘Hi, it’s Damien, I’m stuck in London and I have no money to get back to South Africa, PLEASE help me!’ and then gave some bank details. If this is some kind of joke, Damien, your father and I are NOT amused.”
“Mom, I literally have no idea what you are talking about,” he said, stunned, “are you sure the email is from me?”
“Of course were sure,” she replied, “D dot Solomon at gmail dot com.”
Damien reached over for his laptop and powered it up.
“Lemme just check my mail mom, this must be someone playing a joke – don’t worry, I’m safe and sound in Mowbray, I promise, I’ll call you back when I find out who did this, please send me the email you got?” he said, silently cursing that person in his head.
He hung up the phone and then glared in disbelief at his cellphone screen. 15 missed calls and 25 messages in his inbox. What the heck was going on? He started opening the messages one by one. They were all pretty similar, with varying degrees of concern and annoyance.
‘Dude, grats on the trip…wtf?’,
‘OI! Mate, stop spamming my Twitter account’,
‘What the hell, Dame, how could you be so doff? My aunt’s in London, she can help you, I’ll call her.”
‘Dude, your Twitter has been hacked – you’re sending me spam’,
‘Dame, stop spamming me on Facebook buddy, it’s getting annoying’,
‘Dame, how could you go to London and not tell me???!’, this last being from his girlfriend, Meg, who had obviously also received the email.
He could only assume the voice messages said the same thing and didn’t have the nerve to start listening to them. At least 5 of the missed calls were from Meg, and the rest were from his parents and friends.
Once his computer was online, he opened his browser and went to log into Gmail. On entering his username and password, he got the message: ‘The username or password you have entered is incorrect.’ He entered them again, making double sure each letter was correct: ‘d.solomon’, ‘password123’. Still nothing. He tried 2 more times, groaned and tugged at his hair in frustration.
Next he tried his Twitter account. At least he could log into it. There was a deluge of private messages and ‘@dsols’ complaining about his account spamming. Panicking, he logged into Facebook to find the same problem…posts all over his wall and messages in his inbox, complaining about the spam. His phone bleeped - another SMS. He checked it, and stared in disbelief. ‘R6324.08 paid from cheq a/c to 1254778 @ online banking, Ref: 12345 ’, it said, ‘Avail balance: R0.00’.
He felt like the bottom had fallen out of his stomach. This had to be a mistake. He took a deep breath and looked up the number for his bank. After being transferred around a bit he ended up speaking to a polite, but serious consultant; his worst fear was confirmed - his bank account had been emptied. He felt like crying…he had no idea where to begin. Shaken, he ended the call.
Almost immediately his phone rang. It was Meg. “Now listen to me,” she said, “I got the fake Gmail message and I saw the spam from your accounts, which is why I’ve been trying to get hold of you. Your account has been hacked. I’m guessing you had a really retarded password on your accounts, right? Something like ‘Pass123’ or ‘12345’?”
“Um,” said Damien blushing, “Something like that. It was ‘password 123’, but Google emailed me and asked for it!”
She sighed, “And you had the same username and password on all your accounts?”
“Yes,” he groaned, “and the worst bit is: now all my money is missing from my bank account, all my friends think I’m stranded in London and I’m spamming everyone I know! What can I do?”
“Well, the first thing,” she said wryly, “is not to be an idiot next time, and to think of a better password. The second thing is to get your accounts sorted out and report the theft to the cybercrimes unit of SAPS and to call your bank. They have people who deal with cyber fraud and there’s a good chance they’ll refund you the money.”
Damien felt a wave of relief rush over him. “Seriously?” he said, “What should I do first?”
“First, go to your Google login and click the link that says ‘Can’t access your account?’.”
“OK,” he said, “Now what?”
Click on the option that says “’I’m having other problems signing in’ and then the option that says ’I think someone else is using my account’,” she said, “The people at Google will verify who you are once you’ve contacted them and you can take it from there.”
“When you have your account back, make yourself a decent password, one that has letters, upper and lowercase, numbers and characters in it. That way it will be hard to guess. Also, never give your password away to anyone, EVER, even if that person says he is your boss’s boss and that you’ll get fired for not handing it over. A reputable organisation like Google or your bank would never ever ask for your password.”
Damien listened intently. “What then?” he said.
“Then you change your Twitter and Facebook passwords and any other accounts you have online, and you make sure each password is different. If you can’t remember them all, get yourself a free password manager - there are loads of them – just Google ‘password manager’”.
“Okaaay,” he said, “and then?”
“Next, get in touch with the cops and the bank. And then you write to everyone in your Google address book, tell them not to send money to London, and hope that none of them have. Then write to your followers on Twitter and Facebook and apologise for spamming them. That should sort it,” she said. “Oh, and, you’re welcome!”
“Wow, you have no idea, Meg, thanks SO much. I can’t tell you how grateful I am.”