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Planning Board chairwoman’s email account hacked

GREENFIELD — Contrary to what you may have seen in your email, Greenfield Planning Board Chairwoman Roxann Wedegartner isn’t stranded in the Philippines in need of “urgent financial assistance.”

Wedegartner’s two Yahoo email addresses were somehow compromised this week and emails asking for money were sent out to her contacts. The emails say that Wedegartner and her family were visiting Manila when they were robbed at gunpoint, leaving them unable to settle their hotel bills or pay for transportation to the airport.

“This message is coming to you with great depression due to my state of discomfort,” the email said. “Please we need your help/LOAN financially to pay off the hotel bills and also get a cab down to the airport. I promise to make the refund as soon as we return home hopefully tomorrow or next. Kindly write me back so I can tell you how to get some money to us. Thank You, Roxann”

Wedegartner was in good spirits when reached by phone, joking that the grammatical errors alone should have tipped people off that it wasn’t her. She was unable to tell just how many of her contacts received emails because her outgoing mail folders were wiped clean.

It’s impossible to know how exactly Wedegartner’s email addresses became compromised. On Tuesday, she said she received a notice from Yahoo asking her to change her password because of ongoing viral issues. A few hours later, she began to hear from people about the Philippines email.

A person could gain access to an email account by collecting personal information or through the use of a virus, said Jamie Wynkoop-Morrison, owner of the Greenfield-based Small World Computer and Networking.

That’s why people need to be vigilant about what they’re clicking on so that they don’t inadvertently allow viruses onto their computers or give hackers information, he said.

One popular strategy is the use of “pop-unders,” which open a new window when someone visits a certain web page. Unlike pop-up ads, though, these appear underneath other computer windows and they’re designed to look like messages sent by reputable programs like Adobe Flash Player.

“You go through your regular surfing habits and then when you close out your web page, you find a notice ... telling you to update something,” said Wynkoop-Morrison. “It really does look legitimate and as soon as you hit that button, it does an install process because you’ve given it permission to install a virus on your computer.”

Wynkoop-Morrison suggests that people set their programs to automatically update so they won’t have to sift through which update messages are legitimate and which are phony.

He also cautioned people to closely look at where links in an email are sending them.

“You could sit there and have something that says, ‘You won this on eBay. Come here to log into your account,’” said Wynkoop-Morrison.

The link might send you to a site that looks like eBay, but it’s not. When a person enters his login information, he’s really sending his username and password to someone else, said Wynkoop-Morrison.

Another way that people gain access to a person’s computer is by sending someone a word document that won’t fully open unless the recipient enables macros on her computer. The macro contains a set of instructions, which when run, puts a virus onto a computer.

He suggests that people install anti-virus and anti-malware software, many of which are free.

You can reach Chris Shores at: cshores@recorder.com, 413-772-0261, ext. 264 or @RecorderShores

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