(With apologies to Elton John … like he’d care …)
So I was on my perambulations around the Information Super-suburb earlier today, and decided to check my Twitter page. I’m not a big Twitter user — WordPress automatically posts a link there whenever I do a new blog entry, plus I’ll toss in something else once in a while (though I’m more likely to use Facebook for that – they give you 420 characters of space instead of 140). Mostly, I use it to keep up on the latest quips from a few humorists — ESPN’s Bill Simmons, Conan O’Brien, Rita Rudner, and whoever does the XIANITY tweets. That’s about it.
Well, Rita and XIANITY didn’t have anything new up today. But I did. The only problem was, I didn’t write it.
And yet there it was: me bragging that I got a check for $478 through some new business opportunity, along with a shortlink to whatever it was. I don’t know what it was, as I didn’t click on it. Instead I deleted the tweet, then immediately changed my Twitter password. Done and done.
Still, it was a little disconcerting. Me, Ray Anselmo, with a whopping four Twitter followers, had gotten his account hacked!
I’m not sure how they got my password to do it — it most likely was from a site where I logged in to comment on an article using my Twitter or Facebook account (there’s quite a few of those nowadays). It probably didn’t help that I have in the past used a stock “password for everything” on almost every website where a password is required; it’s a more or less random string of letters and numbers, but still, if you get it you’ve got ’em all. Not wise. And I had to change the password on our e-mail account a couple of weeks ago, because someone had gotten in there and was sending my friends ads for cheap Viagra, so I should’ve been on the alert …
But what’s weirder for me than how they (he, she, how should I know?) got into my business is why they would bother. On two levels.
Level 1: why would they bother blitzing MY accounts? I’m not rich. I’m not famous. (Maybe infamous, but only within a very small circle.) I don’t have a lot of connections to “important” people — they’re important to me, yes, but you wouldn’t have heard of most of them. Like I said, I only have four followers on Twitter. Who did they think they would reach with their (in all likelihood) get-rich-quick scam? Okay, I’ll grant that they probably harvested a whole passel of passwords, and bombed them all with the same message. They weren’t picking on me, per se, they were just throwing garbage against the wall and seeing what stuck. But that leads to …
Level 2: why would they bother blitzing ANYONE’S account? I mean, they want people to find out how they can get checks for $478 (or discounted ED drugs, or whatever), right? Are badly typed e-mails and random tweets really part of a good business model? Do people really buy in when they get a random message?
And the answer I come up with is, I guess somebody does. The scammers wouldn’t keep doing it if it didn’t bring in a suitable number of scam-ees, would they?
I’ve said before that I’m not particularly susceptible to the ad man’s siren song. Most advertising that arrives in our house, via the mail, the Net, TV or radio is at best ignored and at worst openly mocked. (Even my daughter, all of ten years old, can now spot the weak points in those “as seen on TV” ads.) Spam e-mail is wasted on us. But apparently not on everyone. The Nigerian bank scam e-mail (saying that there’s a large sum of money for you in a foreign account, if you’ll just give them the info they supposedly need to transfer it to you) has become a staple of humor columns and late-night monologues. But I once worked in a copy shop that had a fax machine, and about once a month we’d get someone walking in wanting to send an overseas fax to one of those charlatans. I even tried to talk one customer out of it; no dice. (Hope he didn’t lose all the money from his pensions fund.)
That’s the real problem with junk e-mail, with hacked accounts, with false advertising in general — it works enough of the time that the con artists doing it can afford to keep doing it. If people weren’t as gullible, if folks realized that something that seems too good to be true almost always is, those hackers would be out of business tomorrow. Same with the spammers, the advertising gurus, and Anthony Sullivan for the Turbo Snake (TM). But as Phineas Taylor Barnum pointed out over a century ago, there’s a sucker born every minute, and two to take him. And that hasn’t changed from when the old ringmaster said it.
That’s probably what bothers me most about this episode: that somebody thought I was that naive. Well, I hope I’m not. And I hope you’re not either.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go change the password on my WordPress account, to something long and difficult. Same with Facebook. And Netflix. And …