Reversing My Self-Inflicted Hacking Disaster, Or How to Waste a Week

Over the holidays, I committed the ultimate act of computer stupidity and let a hacker have remote access to my computer. I can only say it was a moment of "cranial chaos", which unleashed a cascade of unpleasant events. Our "to do" list gobbled up our 3 day family vacation in the mountains, and days later, my husband and I are still unraveling the unintended consequences of our fixes. I guess the point of this story is to make you glad you are not me. And to let you know how to avoid all of these trials.

Every bank account I had ever accessed, every credit card I had ever used, every site where I had ever purchased anything--all were at risk. So the first order of business was to lock down our personal and business bank accounts. Since we started on a Saturday and some banks had open customer service lines and some did not, we spent 3 days trying to get through a variety of phone trees in 3 banks to get to real people. This was compounded by sketchy cell service in the mountains and more than a few dropped calls. But by Monday we had frozen all our bank accounts and changed the passwords.

Next, our techie son, who works in internet fraud prevention, advised me to contact our internet service provider, Comcast, to tell them what had happened and to be sure my email contacts had not been co-opted to transmit viruses to my friends.

To make an endless story short, I ended up calling 9 different numbers for Comcast--several more than once--winding my way blindly through their phone choices in order to get to living people. (Always being asked if I wanted to participate in a short survey after the call!) But I must say that I encountered some very helpful people along the way, and also learned that the fastest way in was to select Internet, followed by Repair! This gets you to the tech people who are most able to actually help.

Through these various calls, I had my internet contacts checked for viruses, my outgoing emails analyzed to be sure I hadn't sent out the virus I received, and my computer scanned for viruses and cleaned up. (Yes, I gave them remote access, but with my son's okay this time.) I also changed my Comcast password and set up Identity Theft protection.

Then we changed our passwords on everything else.

The banks which had frozen our accounts had us reopen new accounts--but of course it would take a few days to get checks for these. The unintended consequence of this, is that my husband had written some 30 Christmas checks for all his employees and our kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews. People were depositing these checks, only to be told they were no good--some even had bank fines because the checks had been returned. So we have had to figure out who got the checks deposited in time, who did not, who had fees which we want to cover, and then rewrite and mail new checks. But of course we don't have our new checks yet, so we are not finished.

Bottom line: days and days of wasted time! And the moral of this tale is: do not give anyone remote access to your computer! If someone calls you, claiming to be a Tech Support Guru who is positive you have a virus, do not believe it! If a pop-up ad arrives on your computer, claiming you have a virus and asking you to call them, do not do it! If your computer is locked down with a pop up add, just turn it off and reboot. And, be careful about opening any email that looks peculiar!

And do get really good virus protection and identity theft protection!