Express & Star

Peter Rhodes on getting scammed, wasting a day and forgetting a childhood hero

You may recall I smiled a few days ago at a BT email headed “Bill Ready” which looked like it came from a Mr Ready, hoho. It turned out to be something altogether nastier.

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Emails - operate with caution

It was a scammy little program which hacked into my emails, raided my contacts list for email addresses and sent them the digital equivalent of a begging letter. As far as I am aware no-one fell for it but my phone rang endlessly as friends and colleagues, some of whom I hadn't spoken to for years, rang to make sure all was well. That was the one bright aspect of a grim day.

It took many hours to sort things out with BT, mainly because their online help department, like so many call centres these days, was rammed and forecasting delays of 20 or 25 minutes. But the real snag in rooting out this intruder and restoring my email account was getting a new PIN which BT wanted to send to a) an email address that meant nothing to me, or b) a mobile phone number I'd never used, or c) my usual email address which clearly wasn't working or why would I be talking to them?

In order to get the PIN by other means, I faced the “security question,” which has a secret answer that I gave to BT more than 10 years ago for just such an emergency. Here is my security question: “Who was your childhood hero?” Well, lordy, I don't know: Desperate Dan, Biggles, William Brown, Ivanhoe? I had several stabs at this before admitting I had forgotten the answer. At that stage the BT agent did a very human thing and allowed me to nominate a new childhood hero. And thus eventually, at the end of a scary, confusing, wasted and deeply frustrating day, order was restored.

Looking again at the rogue “Bill Ready” email, it appeared perfectly genuine with authentic BT text and artwork. Then I realised the sender's address was iffy and, in any case, my next BT bill is not due for months.

I like to think I am techno-savvy. I frequently warn you readers about internet scams. Yet here I was, surprised, raided and filleted by a bunch of scammers, and all for a moment's inattention. Be careful. Be very careful.