To quote the words of the immortal Homer Simpson: D’OH!!!
As many of you might already have heard, if you’re on one of my direct distribution lists, I got suckered last Thursday into falling for a phishing scam (a form of virus, sort of) on Twitter. That morning, I received an e-mail from an old business acquaintance, stating that she had seen a “bad blog about me” out there that somebody had posted. My curiosity piqued, I (stupidly) clicked the link to check it out and then (even more stupidly) typed my password into a very credible-looking Twitter sign-in screen that came up. Minutes later, I had dozens of e-mails suddenly streaming into me from people in MY network saying “Matt, did you really see a bad blog about me out there?”
That’s when I realized I had been duped and fallen prey to a phishing scam! Normally I’m pretty wary about such things, and good at spotting suspicious-looking messages, but this time around I let my guard down — probably due to the panicked thought running through my head of “Who could POSSIBLY be out there saying negative things about me? I’m such a perfect angel…” (ha ha)
At any rate, I suppose such things are inevitably going to happen in this day and age, given the incredible ways we now use technology and how we’ve all become so tied together by social media. And apparently, there are still plenty of people out there — very smart people, no less — with nothing better to do with their time than create headaches for the rest of us. So after realizing my blunder, all I could do at that point was engage in some immediate damage control, let as many people as I could know that any “bad blog” message from me was bogus, and provide them with instructions on how to repair their Twitter account, if they fell for the scam, as I did. Thankfully, it sounds like only one other person got caught up by the false message.
The whole harried experience, however, got me thinking — and here’s a few related takeaways I thought might be worth sharing:
1) The #1 lesson learned? These kinds of computer scams are still prevalent and can be worded in VERY clever and seductive ways, so we’ve all got to stay on guard against them. As I mentioned, I’m no rookie at this kind of thing and even I got sucked in by this particular ruse. So make sure to keep your anti-virus software up to date and check the web addresses of any sign-in screens to make sure they PERFECTLY match the address they should (in this case, the site that came up was www.twittelr.com, not www.twitter.com).
Additionally, trust your gut — and double-check — if something doesn’t feel right! As a few people who contacted me said, “I almost opened up the note, but it didn’t feel right, since you normally don’t contact me directly via Twitter and the writing didn’t, well, really sound like you.”
2) The second thing I learned? That’s I’m pretty sensitive about my reputation, including my on-line reputation, and that this is a potential point of vulnerability I need to keep my eye on, going forward. And while luckily the “bad blog” about me wasn’t real, this time around, we all need to take steps to monitor what people are saying about us out in cyberspace. You’ll find an earlier blog here where I talk about this issue a bit, and I’d also recommend you set up a Google Alert, if you haven’t already, that automatically alerts you anytime something on the Internet is published with your name included. If you’ve got a very common name like John Smith, however, you’ll get inundated — so you might need to add an extra search term like “Seattle” or the name of your current company to try and filter the results down a bit.
3) And the third thing I learned? That many “negative” experiences in life end up having a silver lining. As the old Chinese proverb you’ll read about here wisely points out, there often ends up being a bright side with setbacks, if you stay open to the possibility. In this case, while I certainly wouldn’t click that deceptive link all over again, if given the choice, the virus — and the warning message I send out immediately afterwards — led to at least a half-dozen calls, messages, and enjoyable chats with old friends and former clients whom I hadn’t had the chance to catch up with in a great many years! So it was actually really fun to have the chance to catch up with a few people on Thursday, some that live all the way across the country, once we got past the “Don’t open that darn link!!!” part of the conversation.
So just wanted to share a few thoughts given the “interesting” experience I went through on Thursday — and encourage you all to not only remember my story as a cautionary tale, going forward, but to also stay open to the positive twists and consequences that can happen when adversity creeps into your life. While we’re not going to get all Pollyanna about it and seek out bad experiences just for the sake of it, I think we all can relate to cases where we’ve gone through something unfortunate and had positive unexpected consequences develop, down the road, as a result!