A Phony Crisis in “London”


On a Monday morning not so long ago, I got up, went to my computer, and found I could not get to my email. I had checked it before going to bed, and there had been no problem. So I thought, “I’ll try again when I get back from my morning workout.”

But before I made it out the door, I was inundated with text and voicemail messages from business and personal contacts, asking me if I was OK. All of them had been sent an email stating the following: “I was in London, had lost my IDs and money and needed help right away!” My clients, business associates, and friends were asked — supposedly by me — to immediately wire money to a London hotel so that I could fly back home. Even my own family wanted to know if I was out of town and needed help. For most people that would have been an improbable story; but for me, a business owner who works with the international community, it was a frighteningly horrible possibility.

Of course, it was all a lie. Hackers had compromised my computer, and this malicious email was being sent from what looked like my email address to ALL of my contacts, randomly. The hackers wiped out my entire database, so I could not even send an email blast telling everyone not to believe the tale! There are too many lessons from this experience to detail; but I will highlight a few, and I hope you will learn from them.

1. Change your password frequently. I know at the bank they do it, but I never thought that a small business owner would have that type of concern. I was wrong! Not only do I change it now, but I make sure it is both long and alpha-numeric — more difficult for the hackers!

2. You can fight back, with help from the FBI. Did you know there is a specific division of the FBI to deal with this type of Internet crime? I have filed a formal criminal complaint over this incident, and also with two of the main Internet hosting companies who were participants in allowing access to the hackers.

3. Social networking sites are valuable communication sources. I must say — I do appreciate the social networking sites, because they allowed me to sign on and spread the word about what happened to me in an attempt to rebuild my contact list! Thank you LinkedIn and Facebook!

One of the most obvious lessons is that while you are building an electronic business relationship in a global economy, you do not have control over what is being put out there about you to your contacts. Relationship building, global or local, remains vital. The best clients will stick with you, even through a crisis. But you can’t afford to worry about — or even miss — those that don’t.