I knew immediately that the email appearing to be from US Airways was actually a phishing attempt because it asked me to confirm a flight I had not booked from a city near which I do not live.
But despite that instantaneous recognition of a scam, alarm bells began clanging anyway for one simple reason: I had flown on US Airways on vacation less than two weeks prior -- for the first time in, well, close to if not forever -- and so I assumed that the scammer had copped my email address from the airline sometime since that transaction.
ANOTHER CAUTIONARY TALE: My Twitter account was hacked! It can happen to you too
And, if they got my email address, who's to say they didn't get my credit card? (Beads of sweat begin to pool on forehead.) So might this obviously spoofed email also be an indicator that someone had commandeered my plastic privileges?
A little Googling quickly made matters worse, as it turned up an April story in USA Today that confirmed that US Airways customers were being targeted in this exact manner. The phishing email cited in the story was almost identical to one that I received, and that was almost identical to the authentic one that US Airways did actually send to me.
Moreover, US Airways acknowledged in April that its customers were being targeted, and the airline had posted a warning notice on its website.
Since the news story was from April and I booked my flight mid-June, two conclusions seemed probable if not inescapable: My address was grabbed just recently ... and US Airways was not only the victim of a data breach, but what appeared to be an ongoing one (OK, that last part would be the silver lining, professionally speaking, in that at least I'd get a good story out of the whole mess).
Oh, sure it could be a corker of a coincidence, but what are the odds when the alternative is that my life is about to become a roiling cauldron of identity-theft hell. (Just to be sure, I had emailed our IT department asking if they'd seen any US Airways-related phishing around here recently.)
Then I decided to run all of this by one of my colleagues -- a level-headed sort -- and he agreed that things looked grim for me and great for that story that I would get to write. We discussed the coincidence possibility, briefly, but I could tell that he was just offering what meager comfort he could.
Next I started looking for contact information for the US Airways public relations department, determined as all get-out to at least get that story cooking before canceling my credit card.
But before I could even find the PR contact, into my inbox dropped this reply from our IT guy: "We have been seeing an increase with USAir Phishing attempts within the past few days. This follows on recent phishing attempts from other airline brands like American, Delta and Virgin."
And then my level-headed colleague popped his head into my office: "Just got three of them -- USAir phishing emails -- right in a row."
Seems it was all a big coincidence after all. And never have I been so happy to see a big story wriggle off the hook.
Have a harrowing tale of your own to tell? The address is email@example.com.
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