Tuesday, 25 June 2024

State senator becomes identity theft victim

LAKE COUNTY – Internet identity theft can happen to anyone, a fact made startlingly clear this week when Sen. Patricia Wiggins found herself the victim of a hacker who broke into her personal e-mail account.

On Wednesday, Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) discovered her Hotmail account – used for her campaign and other nonlegislative activities – had been compromised, said her spokesman, David Miller.

The scammers who broke into Wiggins' account sent out a poorly written e-mail saying Wiggins was visiting England for a program called “Empowering youth to fight racism,Hiv/Aids,and lack of education” (the grammar and capitalization appear as they did in the e-mail).

The e-mail then went on to say that Wiggins needed urgent financial assistance in the form of a “soft loan” for $2,500 in US currency, to be sent through Western Union, because she misplaced her wallet on the way to the hotel.

It ended, “I await to read from you.”

Miller said the hackers changed Wiggins' password so neither she nor her staff were able to access the account.

He said Microsoft technicians worked with Wiggins' staff to shut down the account on Wednesday. Miller said Microsoft determined the hackers were in Africa but could offer few other specifics.

Wiggins, who Miller said hasn't been in England in more than 20 years, decided to go public with the situation in order to prevent any of her constituents from being scammed.

“We've heard from people from several of the counties she represents,” Miller said.

For the most part people have been expressing sympathy that it happened to her, Miller said. “Hopefully nobody got burned.”

One of those receiving the phony plea for funds was Supervisor Anthony Farrington.

Farrington shared with Lake County News a copy of a reply he made to the e-mail. Acting concerned, he asked when the person needed the money and how long they were supposed to be in England.

He received a reply from the scammer, asking him to hurry and send the money and giving him a London address where the money should be sent.

The e-mailer's poor command of English and the story about being stranded were tipoffs, said Miller. If Wiggins ever were to find herself in such a situation as that portrayed in the e-mail, Miller said she has backup measures available to her that wouldn't involve sending an e-mail to friends and constituents.

So far Wiggins hasn't been able to tell if other personal information was compromised, Miller said.

The situation, said Miller, has Wiggins thinking about what additional legislation might be necessary to protect people from similar experiences. As a result, she's thinking of introducing legislation in the near future to strengthen consumer protections against identity theft.

“We’ve seen a number of laws passed at the state and federal levels that were designed to combat the problem of identity theft, but it’s likely that additional measures are needed,” Wiggins said in a written statement. “I will be discussing these issues with consumer groups, privacy experts and law enforcement to determine what else needs to be done.”

If it seems like Internet scammers are getting more blatant, it's because they are.

They've even taken to impersonating the Federal Bureau of Investigation in order to rip off unsuspecting victims.

Beginning last year, the scams used the name of the FBI and Director Robert Mueller – as well as the agency's seal and letterhead – in order to give legitimacy to an e-mail scam using lottery endorsements and inheritance notifications.

Another scam invoked the Department of Justice, sending e-mails to potential victims telling them that their businesses had been the subject of complaints submitted to the DOJ and the Internal Revenue Service.

“It really can happen to anybody,” Miller said.

For information on e-mail scams and how to report them, visit the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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