The Ottumwa Courier


May 5, 2012

Hacked, harried and purged

OTTUMWA — My email account has been hacked. Again.

This is the second time in a year that our home email address has been compromised. And we always learn about it the same way — our friends and family start writing us about the spam they’re receiving. They just want to make sure it’s not from us.

No, I’m not sending the people I love links that lead to who-knows-where. No, I’m not forwarding weird messages and jokes from unknown locations. Just to set the record straight.

So I spent most of two days hurriedly setting up a new email account and having our important emails sent there instead.

Do you realize how many places you receive email from? Do you realize how many companies, banks, friends, family and coupon centers have to have your new address?

But this isn’t because I decided I wanted a new address. This change, and use of my precious time, was made because someone has too much time on their hands.

There is someone, somewhere, who has created chaos in my life because they felt like it. They’ve created ways of hacking into personal email accounts and using them for their own personal whims. This is not only intrusive, it’s also incredibly frustrating. Now I’ve used time this week that I could have spent with family or something else wonderfully productive sitting at the computer notifying everyone I can think of that we’ve been hacked.

And if that wasn’t enough, then I had to close the old, compromised account. That should be easy, right? Not so much.

You see, we just moved home from South Carolina six months ago. We closed out all of our telephone accounts there because that carrier doesn’t have access in rural Iowa. The only thing left was that one email address connected to the local phone company, part of a large, national provider.

So the time came last week to close this account and keep from harassing my loved ones with stuff that wasn’t from me, even though it had my name all over it. However, there was no way I could get into the settings on the account because my name was no longer associated with it.

When we closed down the accounts to move, we had been purged from the system.

No problem. A phone call to the large, national provider and they can take care of it from their end. That’s their job, right? Customer service is plastered all over their advertising.

I got up early one morning so I could take care of this phone call, get ready and go to work. It didn’t seem like there would be any kind of time crunch, so I even made cappuccino before I started.

Employee No. 1: The first person I talked to at the national provider explained that she had nothing to do with email accounts but would transfer me to that department.

Employee No. 2: The next woman said there was no record of our account in the system, so she wouldn’t be able to access any of my information. But she would transfer me to someone who could.

Employee No. 3: This man said he had heard about people who had trouble closing down their accounts, and I just needed to talk to someone in billing who could pull up old account information. He would transfer me there.

Employee No. 4: This isn’t a billing issue, but one in technical support. They have access to account information and can shut it down from their end.

Employee No. 5: Technical support can’t do much with an account that is closed. Their computers don’t have access to closed accounts. But someone from customer service should be able to.

Employee No. 6: This is where I begin praising God, because employee No. 6 was an amazing young woman named Akeelah. She is from Missouri and had the sweetest customer-service philosophy ever. She wasn’t in the region that I needed help from, but she agreed to stay on the line with me while we continued on. This was exactly what I needed, because after five transfers, I was starting to watch the clock a little. And my cappuccino was cooling off.

Employee No. 7: Transferred to the South Carolina regional support for the company. They couldn’t find me in their records either because it had already been six months since we had closed the account. Akeelah stressed to her that this email account should have been closed when the telephone account was closed, and the other employee agreed. Back to billing.

Employee No. 8: In the billing department, we are reminded that they can’t do anything with a canceled and closed account. It won’t show up in the computer, so there’s nothing this department can do. But the technical support team from this region might be able to help. Akeelah laughed a little and transferred us there.

Employee No. 9: The technical support man was a little confused that we were having this conversation. The account should have closed itself when ... yes, we know. But it didn’t. Well, all he could do was change the password, but that would leave an open, unbilled account that would still be vulnerable to hacking. That wouldn’t solve the problem, so we moved on.

Employee No. 10: To quote columnist and comedian Dave Barry: “I am not making this up.” This time we tried someone who could check the files from the local telephone company that was supported by the national company. No luck — we were purged from their system, too. We shouldn’t even still have this account ... Akeelah quickly transferred us back to her region.

Unfortunately, by this time my cappuccino was ice cold and I still had to get around for work. Akeelah profusely apologized for the troubles and the inconvenience. Her helpfulness through the whole thing almost made up for two hours of transferred phone calls without a solution. Almost.

After getting around and ready, I was prepared to walk out the door, putting my headache of emails and telephone companies behind me, when my husband said, “I can’t get into the email account.”

Are you serious?

I tried logging in and was informed that this email account and password combination were not found in the system.

Now we were truly purged from the system. Totally. Completely. Purged.

I have no way of getting back in touch with Akeelah after all of that transferring, but I’d like to think she did some more digging and found the solution. She was the only one I spoke to all morning who would have had the compassion to take care of my situation for me.

So I have new email, new insight into the workings of the telecommunications system and a new compassion for frustrated people.

But please, please find something to do besides hack into my account. I don’t think I can do this again anytime soon.

Laura Carrell is a Courier copy editor and staff writer.

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