Richard Connor: Beware! There might be something phishy in your email

There are any number of things we see happen to other folks but don’t believe they’ll happen to us.

Getting “hacked” or “phished” would have been high on my “it won’t happen to me” list – until, of course, it did.

You’re probably familiar with hacking but maybe not phishing, which is “… the fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by disguising oneself as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.”

Most of us have received those messages on email and social media warning us not to open anything sent by someone we don’t know. I’ve always shrugged and felt bad for the person and lucky that it hadn’t happened to me.

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That was before I was in a meeting and glanced at my laptop only to see it furiously sending emails to almost everyone on my contact list with the subject line “Past Due Invoices.” I even received one addressed to me, from me.

After a quick assessment of the situation by our IT director, I immediately left the meeting and drove to our bank to change the password on our accounts.

Back at the office the IT director logged into my laptop remotely and changed my passwords. As soon as he did the “past due invoice” emails took flight again.

“Shut down your laptop now!” he shouted. “You’ve lost control of it.”

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The timing couldn’t have been worse. I was under deadline and he said he might not be able to fix my laptop – and even if he could it wouldn’t be for at least 24 hours.

Option? Buy a new laptop.

I was back in business in about an hour, but my first thought was: What happens in these circumstances if you don’t have a competent IT person nearby? Without him, I couldn’t have identified the problem or even set up my new laptop.

We went through a lot of time and energy fixing things. Adding insult to injury? No one even sent us money for any of the fake invoices!

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Just kidding, folks.

If there is a sliver of sunlight in this story it is this. We have all become acutely aware of emails or social media messages that appear fraudulent or, at the very least, strange.

The bad news: I spent over three hours answering queries about the scam emails. It was a tedious, slow process, even though my response to all was a concise: “Bogus. Hacked.”

The amount of this sort of hacking and/or phishing going on these days is monumental.

I mentioned the incident to a local CEO and told him we had discovered almost 200 hacking attempts on our system in the past month. He smiled.

“We get over 500 attempts to steal our information each day,” he said. His company has a trove of highly personal client information. If it were stolen, he said, his company would likely have to pay ransom for its return.

Ransom paid to hackers has become almost commonplace around the world.

No one is safe from this. You may recall that Yahoo had 3 billion accounts hacked back in 2013. Billions of usernames and passwords are exposed each year.

I hope it doesn’t happen to you but you should assume it will.

It seems almost inevitable that the government will take more control over the giant social media and internet-driven companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon. Government supervision of private business is not the most desirable answer, but these entities have too much unfettered power over our privacy in a world where it seems nothing is private any longer.

One day, as we continue to marvel at the speed and efficiency of new and ever-evolving technology, we will be forced to take stock – to measure what we have gained against what we have lost.

Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at