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Business owner’s life upended by major ransomware attack

Honolulu KHNL 3/25/2023 Ben Gutierrez
Local business owner's online presence is taken over in ransomware attack © Provided by Honolulu KHNL Local business owner's online presence is taken over in ransomware attack

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - With so much of our lives and information online, scammers and hackers are becoming a lot more sophisticated in getting that information.

They’ve manage to break into a longtime business’ online operation, along with its owner’s personal information.

“I’m disabled. I’m under stress,” said Brenda Reichel.

“This is over the top.”

The longtime certified gemologist, jeweler and appraiser didn’t know she’d been hacked, until she tried to get into her account on Podium, one of the websites that she uses for her business, Carats and Karats.

“I though it was kinda weird that I couldn’t get into Podium. And then I couldn’t get into my @poilady on Twitter,” she said. “I knew something was wrong, and so I started looking at everything.”

Reichel’s life is now consumed with trying to get her online affairs back in order.

The hackers had managed to get into everything, including her emails.

“They’ve changed everything that has to do with anything on all my alternate emails on Google,” she said.

Reichel also got an email demanding $1,000 to get the information back. The FBI is investigating.

Even her online medical records were infiltrated.

“My MyChart’s disabled because they hacked it and got all my information. Everything. They know what medications I’m on.”

Then she got fake text messages, supposedly from her bank. That’s a scam that experts say is becoming more common.

“We saw a huge increase of 39% of scams being done via text messaging,” said Roseann Freitas of the Better Business Bureau Hawaii.

An IT manager said unsuspecting users like Reichel may have clicked on ransomware from a phishing email or text, which records their keystrokes, including their email address and passwords -- and using it to gain control of things like online medical records.

“All they have to do is click ‘reset password,’ and a reset link will go to your email, but that person who has access to your email will be able to control that and change your password and lock you out,” said Mark Ching, IT manager for Brain Health Hawaii.

The battle against online scams will only get tougher as technology advances, and fake emails and texts look more like the real thing.

“You know how it used to be the misspellings, the incorrect grammar? Well, you have AI, you have ChatGPT -- all of those resources that can help them write and make it look legitimate,” said Frietas.

Reichel said she constantly changed her passwords on her many online accounts, and has no idea exactly when -- or how -- the ID theft and ransomware attack occurred.

“They still got in. And it’s like the carpet’s pulled from right under you.”

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