Councillor in hijacked e-mail drama

By Shaanaaz de Jager

A NELSON Mandela Bay councillor has become the latest victim of cyber crime, with all her contacts and private documents deleted from her e-mail account.

It happened through a hoax e-mail faking an emergency and asking for money.

Ward 40 councillor Nicky Knoetze said she was notified on Friday October 12 morning that her yahoo e-mail account had been hacked when a number of friends SMSed her telling her they had received a strange e-mail from her.

The e-mail to undisclosed recipients reads: “I’m so sorry to bother you, but we really need your help at the moment, my family and I came down here to San Sebastian, Spain, for a short vacation, unfortunately we were mugged at the park of the hotel we’re staying and everything we had on us was stolen including, cash, credit cards and cellphones.

“We need ß2 750 (R30 700) to settle the bills and fly back home, we’ll surely pay back as soon as we get back home.”

The e-mail has Knoetze’s original signature but an altered cellphone number.

“I received a call from someone who told me my e-mail was hacked. I also got a number of SMSes. I tried to access my e-mail but I could not get in. I then changed the password to access my e-mail, everything was deleted but then the e-mail locked me out,” Knoetze said.

Knoetze, who has never been to Spain, said her cellphone was synchronised to her yahoo e-mail, which meant that she had also lost contact details on her phone.

When Weekend Post called the cell number that was at the bottom of the e-mail, the call went to voice mail.

Knoetze said she had reported the matter to the police.

“I am freaking out. This is stressful. I had one year’s important e-mails and documents on that account and all is lost.

“Some people said the e-mails they received had a reply e-mail of @live, but I don’t have an e-mail address like that.”

Before 10.30am on October 12 Knoetze had received 30 phone calls from people offering their help.

“I’m surprised how many people want to help, some of them I don’t even know.  They even asked for my bank details.

“Others assumed it was a spam e-mail and texted me that my e-mail was hacked.”

In October last year Eastern Cape Gay and Lesbian Association chairman David Hessey also fell prey to hackers. An e-mail sent from his account, with the hacker posing as Hessey and claiming he was travelling in Madrid, Spain, and had been robbed, said he needed emergency funds which he would pay back when he “returned home”.

The director of the Institute for ICT Advancement at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Professor Rossouw von Solms, said: “If your e-mail is ‘hijacked’ and e-mails are sent out to all your friends that you are hurt or sick and money must be deposited in a certain account, it can be traumatic.”

Von Solms gave tips to  ensure your  identity’s protection:
* Run and update regular proper virus protection on your computer and/or laptop.

* Do not communicate or post too much private or sensitive information on e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, MXit, etc.

* Be very careful of phishing e-mails where people lure you into providing private information.

* Never click on any banking or company link. In most cases these are false sites that will misuse the information provided.

* Your password is strong (long and complicated), do not write it down, and change it regularly.

* Nobody must see you entering your password or PIN.

* You’re not naïve – if something sounds too good to be true, it certainly is.

This is a shortened version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend Post on Saturday, October 13, 2012.

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