Express & Star

Gone in a flash, I've lost two decades of my life thanks to Facebook hackers

After 17 years chronicling his life every day on Facebook Star reporter Adam Smith lost his account overnight after being targeted by hackers. However, it quickly became apparent he had lost a lot more than Facebook's famous blue icon on his phone's screen. In the first of new series How Safe is Your Social Media? Adam, who uses his penname Steve Zacharanda on social media, reveals how easily it could happen to you.

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At least the picture of my nan has been saved

Just before you exit this earth, your life flashes before your eyes. It happened to me as a teenager when I capsized in a canoe, in milliseconds images enter and leave the mind's eye.

I've got the same feeling now but spread throughout each day after I lost two decades of my life because of hackers and bloomin' two step authorisation.

After 17 years I've lost my Facebook account. And in the days since bits of my life I will never see again have flashed before my eyes.

And, people who I've lost, our shared interactions gone forever.

Like pictures of Michael Moore from Memphis, who when I needed cheering up I'd look at his professionally taken pictures with his dogs.

Michael Moore and his dog Madison, a picture which I've found on another platform.

I only met him twice in real life, he was the receptionist at the Memphis Tourist Office and was a golden soul, a Southern gent, who lived a life despite everything that part of the world can throw at a black gay man.

On Facebook we were best buddies, until he died three years ago. We shared some beautiful conversations on messenger in his last few months, but I've lost all trace of Michael.

I was a Facebook friend with Victoria Van Loan before we met in person once, outside Philadelphia in 2016, five months before she died.

She requested to be a friend when my whole world turned on its axis, a drunken video of me on the night Obama won in 2008 went viral, I was in the running to be The US Election YouTube Sensation.

My video zipped around Facebook like something I'd never seen, my first knowledge of it was a Messenger message from my chief reporter: "what have you done?"

And then in Miami, 3,000 miles away from home, Facebook became my link to home.

But Americans watching Good Morning America could look me up, after all there is only one Steve Zacharanda, Victoria and her friend Raymond Barfield had a bet to see who I'd accept first. Her naturally.

She was Republican, me the "drunk foreign and abusive" Obama supporter, but we became Facebook friends, she became a staunch supporter and listener of the Steve Zacharanda Show.

It was a Facebook status that she used as a cry for help when she

was making a bid for freedom.

She gave me a hand-written short story when I met her, obviously I lost it, but I never thought I'd lose the messages where we shared our deepest fears and secrets


Oh and that picture or me and Les Dennis, I've lost that too.

I joined Facebook in 2007, still mourning the loss of MySpace. On social media I decided early on to use my penname Steve Zacharanda; it stretches back to school days but it is unique to me, unlike Adam Smith, which I will never be the most famous, or known, as there are at least three other Adam Smiths in journalism.

Now, more people know me as Steve than Adam, people call me Steve in the pub, street and on the phone and it's part of who I am.

John Honeywell would call me Steve on Facebook but Adam to my face. He would do, he was a stickler for accuracy.

My interactions with John Honeywell are now beyond reach. A big bear of a man who was a big beast in journalism. I met him on a press trip to Croatia and, like many over the years, took an interest in "the type of journalist they don't make anymore". He brought my book Obama and Me and said it was one of the funniest things he'd ever read but also that he'd flung it across his cruise ship cabin after spotting another mistake.

I shared an afternoon with him which only happened because of Facebook, I was reviewing a hotel in Hampshire and didn't realise he was only a junction away. That Sunday lunch was all the more wonderful because I never saw him alive again.

He gave me encouragement when I tried my luck in Fleet Street, a couple of decades too late. Because of Facebook it felt like the whole of Birmingham and the Black Country was on my side as I aced a week's trial at the Metro.

Oh, what about that picture of me and Lynrd Skynrd's piano player's daughter in Nashville and the hilarious comments underneath? It's gone as and, as are the pictures of me taking Miss America 2005 around Parliament with 50p in my pocket.

And those messages from a woman I met once in New Orleans but who asked if I could "pop over to Paris" and pick her up after the fella she went to meet dumped her. I didn't have train fare home let alone Paris. It's like it never happened.

And talking about Paris, those messages which made a classic radio show. I'd got free Eurostar tickets and asked a woman who I thought I was seeing to see the Seine with me, "err, I'd love to go to Paris, but either with my children or someone I love, you're neither".

A simple 'no' would have sufficed. That will be lost to the mists of time.

What about my Facebook Lives, remember them, running up the Rocky steps in Philly, showing how depressed New York was on the day Trump won?

And the American Voices series I did, all those moments in history, lost in the great Cloud in the sky.

And all the messages between myself and the love of my life, all the songs I sent her, all the promises I made which I will never remember now.

And all the places we've been and memories we've shared, we will have to talk about them now. But I will be hopefully be with her forever, so reading the crystallisation of our love is a great way to spend a rainy day.

The picture of my neighbour holding the chainsaw above my mom's head, that's gone too.

My "hilarious" ungracious posts after winning three journalism awards have gone down the swanny too.

That status in 2009 which said "in the last month I've lost my business, my office, my Mrs, my home, my dog, my wallet and now my phone.." to that someone replied "as long as you've not lost your sense of wonder". Always made me laugh that did.

All the messages, pictures and memories of my current girlfriend have been lost, not being able to see in black and white and reading the messages which made me realise she is the greatest woman on the planet have gone. If she leaves me, I'd have to rely on my memories to tell me she actually loved me.

The Steve Zacharanda Radio Show was given countless laughs by our listeners' Facebook comments, they were still there, like when we asked for a playlist for a listener going in for a serious MRI scan and at the death Seamus wrote Just Don't Turn Around.

The near 2,000-plus friends who are relying on my pithy daily comments must be wondering if I am alive.

For many I am the only journalist they've ever met or know of, and I get bonkers tips and requests for help every week. Sometimes I have made a real difference, raising money for a desperate cause or getting a faceless corporation to take another look at an unfair decision on someone who cannot stick up for themselves.

I never gave up on Facebook.

When people called it naff, I replied my friends aren't naff. It's the global friends who I will miss the most.

The best month of my life was volunteering for Obama in Miami in that glorious time of optimism. Those American friends I made would have long been forgotten if it had not been for Facebook.

If any are in London, or I am in America then it will be through Facebook the reunions will be organised.

The travel guides from India, Canada, the Amazon, Mallorca, St Louis, Florida Keys, St Louis, Nashville, Memphis and everywhere in between.

If I met you once, I'd add you on Facebook, for those I'd meet in Brum I used to love playing the 'how many mutual friends' game. The last time I did it, we were actually already friends but did not know it.

Of course there are Facebook friends I have no idea who they actually are, but who cares, especially if they are kind of Facebooker who post statuses like "proper snakes around" and "whoever it is telling my ex what I'm doing well carry on".

I always was there every day, wondering how people were and what story I could find.

I found some corkers on Facebook; remember that fella who looked like David Schwimmer from Friends who nicked a crate of beer in Blackpool? That was my story that went viral.

So much of my writing has been wiped from the face of the earth, OK, Soft Drinks, Hard Area was niche, but it ended with me and a mate being driven round London in an orange tank, all broadcast on Facebook, the anecdote is much better with a video being pulled out of my pocket.

I uploaded 100s of photos, including old family photo albums which were top of the list to retrieve if the house burnt down, but no need to risk life and limb for fading Kodak prints, they are safe forever on Facebook.

The only photo I can see is my profile picture which I'd luckily changed to a brilliant 1980s picture of me and my nan. But memories of my auntie and uncle who I used to visit once a year before they had to go into a home.

Oh the pictures, like the one of me in a microlight above the Smoke that Thunders (Victoria Falls) which shows the curvature of the earth behind me or that picture of me and Gurdo laughing so hard on the London tube on the way to the Rolling Stones, my memory is not good enough to remember those snapshots in time.

Then there are the countless stories I've written to help raise funds for all type of causes and people.

I saved someone's life because of Facebook, I noticed the plight of an old school friend whose liver needed replacing but was at the back of the queue. I wrote about it for the local paper, got the MP involved, she magically got to the front. When I'm feeling useless I listen to her voice note thanking me and well up.

Every time I see her celebrating a birthday or posting a picture on holiday I get little boost, not anymore, I will sound like a bore telling others about the miracle that happened instead of using it as personal motivation to do better and a reminder I'm not the shit scumbag so often stares back at me from the mirror.

My nightmare started last week when I got a message to say my password had been changed, I checked the location where it was changed "near London' which actually Birmingham is according to Facebook.

Then I starred getting messages on WhatsApp from "Facebook Support Team". It was from a normal number, and I wasn't sure if I'd even given Facebook that number.

The language didn't seem right. "Did you received the code".

"Who are you?" I asked.

"Trying to help you."

"Your trying to hack me, I don't believe you."

Then, this weird reply.

"You have to."


I had not even used this phone number for Facebook
The hackers badly written messages

But then I stopped getting codes through WhatsApp.

Then the two step authentication nightmare began.

The code to my email was selected and received, 8 mobile phone numbers have come and gone since I began Facebook.

Password changed, fine.

Then the code from 'two step authentication' I'd set up.

I despise those three words with a passion, I'm pretty sure I haven't set one up, but perhaps it's the Samsung password thingy, or the Google lock thingymebob.

Nope, the password god says no.

Only option was to upload ID.

But my passport is Adam Smith and my Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, everything online is Steve Zacharanda.

Two weeks later and I've had nothing back, and I've no redress. This will happen to more people, and in future years when dementia bites at the social media generation a valuable life resource could be lost because of a few errant clicks.

It could not have happened in a worst week, my friend's funeral was on Friday and I needed to tell people the wheres and when's of the day, and another friend went missing, not having messanger to see if he had been active would have helped, before having to report it to the police. And I've failed getting stories done for work, of course the cafe I need to book a picture with doesn't have a phone number but answers messages.

Still, a week after having my profile taken away, silence from Facebook.

Now everyday a part of my life flashes before my eyes but now I can't click on it anymore.