Hacked Off: A Common E-mail Problem

Lesson learned from an e-mail hacking: Despite the recession and difficult economic times, the human condition has a built-in mechanism to reach out and help one another in a time of “crisis.”

By Caroline Hinkes, Owner, www.easytrainingmanuals.com

Like you, I was getting ready for work last Wednesday. Unlike you (maybe), I was about to experience my first e-mail hacking. The calls started rolling in at 7:32 a.m.:

“Just letting you know you’ve been hacked.”

“Are you really in Manila being held at gunpoint and need me to wire you $2,000???”

Hmmm. OK, let’s check the BT e-mail account, a quick call to BT, a change of password …all over, right?

A flurry of calls to my mobile followed an avalanche of calls to my landline; a wave of social media flooded in to all family members. In fact, the entire day was chaos.

But why would anyone believe the message? Intelligent colleagues, well-meaning friends, and distant acquaintances called in to check that I was OK. Some needed to be convinced I really was OK. It was as if they had been enveloped in a hypnotic trance by that e-mail

But why? All advertisers and salespeople take note!

On re-reading the message, I could see the sender made clever use of a simple psychological principle. Using emotive language in the subject box, the headline screamed, “Caroline Hinkes is in urgent need of your help!”

The brain is organized hierarchically, with the amygdala being the boss of the emotional center. However, and thank goodness, we also have the cortex, which is the boss of the thinking center. So what happens in a crisis? (Remember, I am supposedly stuck in Manila being held at gunpoint.) The amygdala, darn it, takes over and hijacks our response. And that is why perfectly sensible and intelligent people called me in the numbers that they did.

What did I learn from the experience?

Despite the recession and difficult economic times, the human condition has a built-in mechanism to reach out and help one another in a time of “crisis.”

To the hacker, I say thanks for the reminder of just how amazing we all really are.

Oh, and how did I finally sort out my e-mail account?

  • Called my Internet provider to report it
  • Asked for a retrieval of my address book
  • Deleted a new fake account set up in my name
  • Created a new and strong password

Time needed to put it right: about three hours.

Caroline Hinkes is a training consultant, executive coach, and owner of www.easytrainingmanuals.com, which provides user-friendly resources for trainers and coaches.

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