During our weekly TNW editorial meeting earlier today, I got a call from my father, which is something that doesn’t happen all that often. Especially not during working hours. I texted him back, and he told me I’d been hacked.
My heart started pounding. I still get nightmares from that story Wired’s Mat Honan wrote when he got hacked, and lost all his personal data. What if someone read my conversations with my girlfriend? Found embarrassing group convos? Got into my work accounts? Or even worse: got into my banking stuff?
I asked my dad what happened, and he started sending me screenshots of a conversation he and I supposedly had on WhatsApp. Initially, I thought someone got into my WhatsApp account, but on closer inspection I realized someone was using my name and picture with a new number. Not a hack, ‘just’ a simple case of identity fraud.
The hacker texted my dad to say ‘I’ accidentally put my phone in the washing machine and got a new number, and that I needed money to pay some outstanding bills. Now this is not something I had ever done before, and the language used wasn’t typical of me either, so my dad immediately suspected something was up, but I can see how a more gullible parent could fall for this scam.
The social engineering tricks these hackers use are downright devious. A former colleague of mine got attacked earlier this year and tweeted the screenshots, which show how the hackers told his dad that ‘he’ got a new phone and that his dad could have his old device. It’s pretty unsettling to read such a jovial conversation between a scammer and his victim.
This attack is extra dangerous in the Netherlands because we have this service called Tikkie, which lets you send people a payment request without having to give your banking details. Usage of this service is extremely common over here, so a potential victim wouldn’t be freaked out by it.
Apparently scammers have been using this technique since the beginning of this year. A story by Dutch website RTL Nieuws warns people about this attack, after their newsroom got a bunch of tips from people who got targeted by this scheme. They also interviewed a woman who fell for it and paid a thousand bucks to her hacker.
The solution is simple; tell your parents not to wire you money without speaking to you first. It might sound like the most obvious thing in the world, but the sophistication of these scams is truly scary and, unlike simple phishing attempts, you can see how someone would fall for this. And it’s a good excuse to call your parents, you know it’s been too long.