Decades ago, in an epoch very different from ours, it took perhaps a severe storm or a personal tragedy to reveal just who your true friends were.
Nowadays, all it takes is spam.
Just the other morning, I was in an early meeting when my (hated) Blackberry went off. Up popped a message from my friend, Josh -- he was forwarding to my work-email a note I'd apparently just sent him from my personal email account. He was concerned: "Are you okay?" he asked urgently. I scrolled down my Blackberry and read on.
According to the text from my personal account, I was very much not in Hollywood, on a studio lot off Sunset Boulevard. Instead, I was stranded in Wales -- where my wallet and passport had been stolen. In order to get out and back home, I needed to replace my documents and buy a new airline ticket. The cost: $1,850. Conveniently, I was somehow able to muster up enough Welsh to open a local bank account where my friends could wire me the funds I needed.
No, I had not been transported into part two of "The Matrix," or trapped in one of the final episodes of "Lost." This email, it turns out, is the latest attempt at an internet scam. Someone had hacked into an old account of mine, and sent out this urgent notice to everyone on my contact list. They also changed my password and security information so I couldn't get back in and stop them.
Frustrating for sure, but that wasn't the real story of my morning. Several friends had heard of the Welsh scam and emailed me knowingly. But most others hadn't gotten the word -- and were genuinely worried. My work email soon piled up with messages; calls came in to my assistant; my wife returned home from morning errands to find half-a-dozen voicemails on our phone. Was I okay? What did I need? How could they help? And what in the name of Tom Jones was I doing in Wales, anyway?
It was funny -- but also oddly moving. I felt a bit like the guy who wishes he could attend his own funeral, to see who'd show up and what they would say about him. It was a nice little window into my friends and family and how they cared, how we all felt about each other.
When I got back from my meeting, I raced to my computer and sent out a mass email, letting everyone in on the scam. For the rest of the day, I traded snarky jabs with contacts about my supposed travel habits, and even sang "What's New Pussycat?" over the phone with my cousin. We laughed a lot -- still, by that evening, it was the initial response that stayed with me most. The one where people reached out and offered to help.
I'm sure the hacker who ripped into my account would never expect this, and may even cringe at the expression -- but, honestly, pal, thank you.