It was a Friday afternoon, and I had just returned from interviewing someone for an article. While the information was fresh in my mind, I started to write the piece. I stopped briefly to look up something on Google, clicked on a website, and in a flash, my computer was hacked and taken over by some insidious cyber criminal.
And in that surreal nanosecond, all the LifeLock commercials I had seen on TV flashed before my eyes. Initially, I was seized with inertia because I couldn’t believe what was happening.
There are many things in life you think you really don’t need, at least not then, but purchase anyway just in case such as homeowners insurance with riders for your grand piano or antique jewelry. One of those purchases is my ongoing computer service to which I am hooked up remotely.
When I managed to shake myself back to reality, I frantically dialed my computer service. Chris answered. And like a scene from a superhero movie, Chris swooped in--virtually of course with his cursor-- and came to the rescue. He calmed me down,, walked me through the paces of what to do to protect my identity at that point, and then deleted all the damaging malware the hacker put on my computer. He also suggested gently some pitfalls to avoid so it wouldn’t happen again. This is especially important for those of us over 50, 60 and older who aren't as savvy about technology and the potential evils that exist. Now, I'm hip too on what to do:
- I reported it immediately to one of the three credit bureaus-- to put a 90-day fraud alert on my credit. That one agency then notified the other two. It was recommended at the time and in follow up letters, that I call the credit bureaus to check my credit scores to make sure they hadn’t been compromised. This is a free service. The agencies are: Experian,888-397-3742 or experian.com; TransUnion, 800-680-7289 or transunion.com, and Equifax, 800-525-6285 or Equifax.com
- I changed all my passwords, which should be changed anyway on a regular basis. I’d been remiss about doing this. Today, it is suggested that people use phrases like “Idonoteatredmeat$$” instead of a name or number or a combination.
- I was told never to click again on an unfamiliar website or open an unrecognizable email.
- I signed up for identity theft protection. I called LifeLock (800) 543-3562 or lifelock.com, an American identity theft protection program, and bought their best plan. This entitles me to call a private number if I suspect a problem and to use a verbal password to get immediate service.
- I called all credit card companies to ask them to put a note in my file that I was hacked. I did the same with my bank.
- I learned the importance of being careful whom you accept as a friend on Facebook, LinkedIn or any of the sharing sites.
- I let friends and family know what happened and suggested they check their records to make sure they weren’t affected by my hack.
- I know now to back up files on an external hard drive.
- I also gleaned the importance of keeping software protected and have checkups on a six month or at least annual basis, sort of like your annual medical checkup, to make sure all is secure.
Unfortunately, hacking is a byproduct of our complex and multilayered culture of technology. There are bad guys out there, that’s just a fact. In my case, once it felt the problem had been mediated, I relaxed somewhat and patted myself on the back for making a smart investment in a computer service. In the future, I’ll be more prudent about what clicks I make. But for now, I’ll see what happens when I file my taxes--I got an extension. Wish me luck.