Nope, I’ve never been to Spain

Published 10:33 am Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Contrary to popular belief (and emails) I’ve never been to Spain. Why would I write about somewhere I’ve never been? Because I was hacked and, now, I’m hacked off!

Part of the trouble begins with me. I know better, but hackers or internet criminals are mighty crafty. They can make anything seem so true and that’s what they did to me. Still, I knew better so, if I could, I would take my right leg and contort it in such a way that I would kick my backside right in the middle.

An erroneous email went out to all my contacts that Donna Sue and I had taken a few days, without anyone knowing it, and gone to Spain. I said that the criminals are mighty crafty, but, come to think of it, it’s not too smart to suggest that two pastors, who keep pretty busy with four churches, could simply take off a few days and fly to Spain without anyone knowing it.

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Well, while in Madrid, I guess right after our watching the latest bullfight, flamenco dancers, and having dinner at the best restaurant in the city, La Corral de la Morería, I was mugged and taken to the Hospital de Madrid. Eventually, I was pronounced okay, but the Policia de Espana would not let me go unless I had $1,750.

Since Donna Sue and I had spent all our money at the Madrid Walmarta, I decided to send out an email to all my contacts asking for a quick fix of $1,750. The email was under the heading AWFUL TRIP and I have been receiving calls all morning (as I write this) asking me if it is true!

I knew something was up. The day before the scam email went out, I received an email purportedly from AT&T. The logo was perfect and the message sounded like my best interests were at its heart. In other words, AT&T seemed to be genuine in their desire to protect my interests. That should have been my first warning.

It is time for my standard boast of my abilities to negotiate living in the modern world of computers. I usually say something like “I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.” By saying that, I hope to convince, either you or me, of my technical common sense. I must not have too much.

In my heart of hearts, I knew a company like AT&T would not send an email to a “valued customer,” as the message called me, and ask for all those details of life. They simply don’t do business that way. BUT, it looked so real! Now, I feel like a dunce.

I replied with this answer, “How do I know you are who you say you are?” They never wrote back; I guess they weren’t who they said they were. As it turned out, they didn’t have to write back, I’d had fallen into the trap just by replying.

The first instance I knew of their nefarious and dastardly deed was when Donna Sue asked me about an email that came from me. She wanted to know if I had sent it. It was headlined: AWFUL TRIP. At that point I knew I had to take a journey, not to Spain, but to AT&T’ville and make some changes. I’ve spent the morning writing, not the column I had planned, but one that is perhaps more timely.

I think computers are great and I use mine often. It’s important to me and its importance will not diminish in the years to come. In fact, our lives will grow more and more dependent upon them and the possibilities of communication with family and friends are immense.

At the same time, there are issues that need to be seriously addressed and I mean very seriously. The hacker who destroyed my email account is a criminal and has caused me hours of time that could have been spent doing something else. The hacker stole time from me and time is irreplaceable. I hope no one was so duped as to have actually sent the money, but if that is the case, there is fraud and thievery to consider.

There is something else to consider. What about the invasion of privacy? What about the stealing of my identity? Is there a lot of difference between this type of crime than the actual breaking and entering of my house?

I guess what I’m saying is that this happened to me and it is personal. When someone’s house or car is stolen, I have heard them comment that there is a kind of violation of them or their possession that changes more than can meet the eye. I don’t want to sound over reactive, but if our worlds are going to revolve around this computer activity (and it does), then we need to be very serious about the crimes that surround it.

I am sure that AT&T has a very advanced investigative unit that researches reported incidents like this, but will they, can they actually get to the bottom of this and who did it? What happens to them when they are caught? Is there a slap on the wrist or is there a serious consequence?

I can poke fun at myself and say that “I’ve never been to Spain” and joke a little about this incident. I have a humorous view of many things, but I have thought for a long time that people who make a living by stealing from others their identities or taking advantage of others through various kinds of scams ought to be treated with great contempt and seriously punished.

We need to let criminals that hack into computers to take advantage of other people’s resources will be prosecuted to the full extent to the law. Then we need to have sound laws and plenty of people to go after them. Sounds like a growth industry to me.