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Hackers

Let me start by saying that if I send you an email asking you to buy $500 gift cards from a major national retailer right away, please don’t do it.

Early Thursday morning, one of my colleagues from the front office came racing around the corner and into my office.

“Was that you?” she asked breathlessly.

What?

“Look at your email.”

She had forwarded me an email that appeared to be from me.

“are you available at the moment? i need you to handle a project immediately. very busy at the moment cant talk.just send an email when you receive this. Best Regards, Sean Scully”

She replied to Sean and he sent back a followup:

“Here's what i want you to do! As incentive,i am rewarding some of our hardworking staff with gift cards and i want you in charge of this! However, its going to be a surprise and i want it kept that way! To this effect, i want you to get me 8 pieces of $500 face value HOME DEPOT gift cards. I am very busy now so just scratch the cards and scan here to my email, and make sure to hold on to the cards. I will also send a list of recipients! can you get this done in 30minutes? Best Regards, Sean Scully”

This seemed a little odd, particularly since this hardly sounds or looks like the way I write.

Within a few minutes, colleagues all over the building were inquiring why I needed their immediate help on a project and why I was too busy to walk the 50 feet to their desks.

We quickly cleared up that this was some scammer using my name, but not my email address.

“This is a perfect example of email spoofing,” our IT guy explained, after banning further emails from the spammy address. “By definition: it is the creation of email messages with a forged sender address.”

But that wasn’t the only scammy thing to happen to me Thursday (Coincidence? I don’t know). As I was driving home, my phone began blowing up with people contacting me to see if I had sent them a weird message on Facebook. I had not.

Turns out I had been “Cloned,” a fairly common practice where someone copied the photos from my legitimate page and set up a new account under my name that looked a lot like mine. They started messaging my friends, presumably hoping to get them to do something unwise, such as buying $500 Home Depot gift cards. Fortunately, there was no sign my legitimate page was compromised.

Someone reported the alt-Sean account and by morning Facebook had killed it.

Scams are everywhere, it seems. We get several calls per month at the Register about some scam or another – so many calls that we simply don’t have time to report on all of them.

On Thursday, in fact, while I was dealing with my two unwelcome alter egos, a faithful reader emailed with a tip:

“I just got such a call from someone leaving me a message to call back at 800-[XXXX]. There was no identification of the [Social Security] office when I called back, and I was then directed to press 0 for a human. That person also did not identify themselves as an agent, but informed me there was a legal action filed against my SS and further requested my name (!) and SS#. I asked to speak to a supervisor and he hung up on me. I called back 3 times and the woman who spoke with me last started singing (!) to me even as I spoke.”

This is pretty typical of the kinds of scams we hear about going around by phone or email. We usually advise people to report such scams to the police, even though it is almost certain that the scammers are out of the area, or even out of the country, so local authorities can’t do very much.

So in this digital era, I guess we’re mostly on our own to protect ourselves from scams.

Apply common sense: if it sounds too good (or too bad) to be true, it probably is. Don’t trust someone you don’t know. Listen to your gut – if a trusted friend or colleague sends you a message that sounds a little weird, double check to make sure it is authentic.

Check and double check. The old joke in journalism is “if your mother says she loves you, check it out.” The same now applies to all of us in this era when the internet, phones, and social media invite scam artists right into our homes and offices.

Now, about those gift cards...

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​You can reach Sean Scully at 256-2246 or sscully@napanews.com.

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Editor

Sean has been editor of the Napa Valley Register since April of 2014. His previous credits include the Press Democrat, The Weekly Calistogan, The Washington Times and Time and People magazines.