The Beauty of Getting Hacked


Saturnino P. Javier, MD, FPCP, FPCC, FACC

Dr. Saturnino P. Javier is an interventional cardiologist at Makati Medical Center and Asian Hospital and Medical Center. He is a past president of the Philippine Heart Association (PHA) and past editor of PHA’s Newsbriefs

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As the email averred, I was stuck in a hotel in Belfast after attending a Cardiology speakers’ bureau meeting. I lost all my travel documents, cash and credit cards while taking the train from Gare du Lyon train station in Paris, France. While the embassy was processing my documents, I needed to settle my outstanding bills in the hotel where I was billeted since they kept on piling up as the days went on. So, I pleaded in my e-mail to please send me some cash to get by, to buy meals, to get my documents processed. I then clearly stipulated an account number and bank details for the much-needed transfer – and the much-sought assistance for a friend in dire need. And I promised to return the money – with some interest added on – if so desired.

Of course, it was a false urgency. A hacked e-mail address. A fictitious travel scenario. A fraudulent scheme. But a real bank account – waiting for gullible generous souls to transfer dollars or euros to.

I must have fallen victim to one of those internet-savvy cyber mavericks who hack e-mail addresses and perpetuate themselves by sending mails to all those listed on the contact directory or address files of the unsuspecting netizen.

These numerous scams and fraudulent activities happen with such frequency and regularity. Electronically slick. Technologically scheming.

On the night the said e-mail reached friends and relatives, I must have spent the whole night trying to personally call or reach some well-meaning friends and colleagues who immediately responded to the e-mail with kind words of reassurance, some measure of generous offer to help and with clear stipulation of absence of any intent to be paid back. I suddenly heard from friends I last heard from many years ago inquiring what else they could do to help. Some were profusely apologetic that they could not send the entire amount I was requesting, so could I please accept a lesser amount. Some already indicated they would proceed with bank-to-bank transfer the following day to facilitate the transaction. Some wanted to call the hotel to settle the bill by credit card.

Certainly, I was extremely grateful, and touched. I was elated by the swift reply of friends. I was humbled by even the slightest demonstration of willingness to help. I was embarrassed by any effort to apologize. But likewise, I was extremely worried as well. A few stood to be duped and be ripped off.

The e-mail would have convinced some unsuspecting and well-meaning people, but not the real close friends of mine. First, the grammar of the communication was awfully bad, sounding more like a Russian trying to take a crash course in English communication. Second, the discourtesy or ill breeding was disconcerting. In the e-mail, I referred to all my friends and acquaintances by their first full names. I have never addressed, for example, Dr. Rafael Castillo, past president of the Philippine Heart Association (and editor of this magazine) by his simple first name Rafael. I have consistently called Dr. Castillo ‘Dr. Raffy’ – all these years. Just as well, I have never called my other friends Eugenio, or Ramon, or Adelaida. I call them Gene, Randy or Leni.

Notwithstanding all these, some bad things bring on good ones. Ugly situations can sometimes usher in beautiful ones. This hacking incident reconnected me with some friends from way back my college days, or even high school days. In fact, the reconnection with some friends had led to a lasting and renewed friendship once again, long after the Belfast crisis is over. A friend had since visited from Chicago and I stood as godfather to his son. On the other hand, a college buddy had stood as host for a brief stay in Toronto, Canada.

Fortunately, no one was duped by the hacking. No one was conned by this fraudulent activity. Instead, it brought about a newfound and lasting appreciation of the willingness of friends to respond to a call for help. I am eternally grateful.

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