Just when you thought it was safe to hit "send."
"For this to happen is like, it's devastating,” said Cynthia Bettner, who is the owner of her own public relations business that produces tourist guides and special events, but now has a different kind of PR nightmare on her hands.
An email with her name on it claims she'd lost her bag while in the United Kingdom and asks for $1500 in emergency money, using her real email address and a local cell phone number nearly identical to hers. It was sent to her entire 2,000-person contact list.
But it didn't come from her, rather almost certainly from Nigeria in the style of so many other email scams originating there. And they're getting increasingly sophisticated and harder to detect. What started her problems was an email that appeared to come from Yahoo that she received just hours before, asking for confirmation of her new password, full name, and birth date.
"After that, that's when the hacking started. That's when I started getting phone calls from hundreds of clients and friends you know, ‘Are you okay? Do you need money? Are you in Europe?’ No, I'm here. What's going on?” she recalled, laughing nervously. ”And, they're saying ‘You've been hacked, Cindy’."
The scammers didn't stop there, though.
In order to prevent her from sending out her own email warning friends to ignore the bogus email under her name, they deleted her entire address book, months worth of emails and have hijacked her real email, effectively shutting down her business.
A call to the phone number on the scam email, which usually have bad grammar or punctuation (even if they're from a big corporation like Yahoo) and often ask for private information like passwords (corporate emails almost never do), was answered by a woman with a heavy accent in what sounded like a noisy foreign telephone operation.
She said we had the wrong number.
"So I'm dead in my tracks right now. My business is in a holding pattern," Bettner said.
She is desperate to find a computer expert who can clean up her computer, retrieve her contacts again and get her business back up and running. The reward: free public relations work.
She is asking anyone who can help to call her business telephone at 305-355-4800.
“I feel violated," Bettner said. "I'm trying to figure out why me?”