The first clue something was wrong came in a panicked dawn telephone call from a friend in Dubai. Ten minutes later another upset friend called from London.
The email account of a Nelson nurse had been hacked and all the contacts in her online address book received a message saying she'd been robbed at knifepoint in the Philippines.
"I thought, this is yucky, but it happens a lot," the 37-year-old explained. However, when she logged on to reset her password, realisation dawned that the hackers had stripped her account and effectively wiped out her identity.
"I've had the Yahoo account for 14 years and because I've travelled a lot and worked overseas, it's my filing cabinet," she explained.
"I had superannuation details from 3 countries, nursing registration from various countries around the world, details of bank accounts and home loan stuff. They'd even stripped my recycle bin. There is so much stuff in there that I can't remember and of course all the contacts."
The account also contained photocopies of her passport and driving licence; seasoned travellers often email important documents to themselves in case of an emergency.
Chillingly, the hackers had attached the scanned copy of her passport to the SOS email, to make it seem more authentic. And they had painstakingly researched details of her life including them in the note even signing off with her nickname. "This was immaculate, the grammar was perfect, no spelling mistakes. They had spent time working out the style and only asked for $1800."
Five weeks later she is still trying to untangle the organisational nightmare, applying for a new passport and driving licence made more difficult because she froze her bank accounts and cancelled her credit cards.
With her evening consumed with trying to reclaim her identity, she estimates the cyber-crime has cost at least $5000 in lost earnings and other charges.
She has had to postpone a planned trip overseas. And she fear the hackers may try to sell or use her nursing registration.
The damage is also psychological, she says. "I felt like I'd been burgled, violated."
The victim enlisted the help of online safety watchdog Netsafe who offered guidance for handling the hacked account.
Executive Director Martin Cocker says more than 70 per cent of Kiwis have fallen victim to some form of cyber-crime. The most common complaints are computer scams, fraud and viruses.
The not-for-profit group will tomorrow launch the first national Cyber Security Awareness Week to help tackle online scams which cost the country around $400m every year.
"Awareness is half the battle," Cocker said. "There are some simple steps to improving your security and that's what this week is all about."
He advises using a number of "strong" or hard to guess passwords and changing them every 90 days. Keeping your software up to date is also essential, and avoiding "phishing scams".
Communications minister Amy Adams will launch Cyber Security Awareness Week at Parliament tomorrow.
She said the internet and modern technology have become "fundamental" to the pursuit of commercial, personal, and government business.
"Cyber intrusions have the potential to impact on the reliability of critical infrastructure, government services, and the economy.
"It's important that we make sure that New Zealanders are aware of what the dangers are and take the right precautions to protect themselves against potential cyber security threats."
- © Fairfax NZ News