What it feels like to be hacked and almost lose everything

Not only was my Google account hacked, but my mental equilibrium was thrown way off kilter.

Google  (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"If you were here,” I told the complete stranger, a male with a heavy Indian accent on the other side of the phone, “I would give you a smooch.”
And I would have, or – at the very least – a nice hug, possibly a bouquet of flowers, maybe some chocolate.
For this fellow, whose name I don’t even know, put me out of 36 hours of technology-induced misery. He was a member of the Google support team – somewhere out there in the world – who helped me to free up my Google account, which one fine morning I was simply unable to access, apparently because it was hacked.
That’s right, no Google. The sun rises. The birds chirp. The coffee percolates. But no Google.
To the uninitiated, that might not sound like such a big deal.
“So what?” they might say, trying to ease the aggravation. “You have your health, The Wife, your kids – even grandkids. Don’t make such a big thing about losing access to a Google account.”
And they would be right. In theory.
In theory, nothing much really matters, as long as you have your health. But in practice, those little hiccups along the way can drive you nuts, and this one about did it.
Ten years ago, if some guy would have kvetched to me about being locked out of his Google account, I would have rolled my eyes and scoffed.
“So what?” I’d have said, impatiently. “Open another account.”
But that was before I opened up my own account, and essentially put all my professional and personal life in Google’s anonymous hands – correspondence, work notes, family photographs.
If I’m locked out of Google, I lose access to all that: to my email account, with some 25,000 emails stocked away; to my documents; to my photos. Everything I need to do my job and trigger my memory – the real one, that one in my brain – is stored in Google.
Lose that, and I’m lost. And a week ago I lost that.
Try writing an email, if you don’t have anyone’s emails in your computer. Try retrieving a password for a credit card company, when the verification number they email you is to an account you can’t open. Try writing a story, if the notes you need are on Google docs you can’t access. Try to remember what your grandson looks like, if you can’t get into the hundreds of pictures you have of him in Google photos.
Not only was my Google account hacked, but my mental equilibrium was thrown way off kilter.
IT ALL STARTED a week ago Wednesday when, as part of my morning routine, I clicked on to my emails. Only I couldn’t get into my Gmail account, and instead received a message saying my account had been disabled.
“That’s odd,” I thought, innocently, “I wonder how that happened.”
I also figured it would take just a few minutes to restore. Though no technological wizard, I found the Account Recovery link that all the sites on the Internet said would solve the problem.
But it didn’t.
Every time I went into the link, it would ask for my address, password, and send a verification code to my cellphone, which I entered. I would then get a return message that my account had been disabled.
During this period I was a man possessed. I didn’t eat, I didn’t work, I didn’t shower, I just focused on getting back the keys to that part of my life locked up there somewhere in Google land.
I called some smart, computer-savvy friends, but they all sent me back to the same link.
At one point I got a message saying that not only was my account disabled, but that Google could no longer verify that I was the owner of the account in question.
That was even worse, like passing from Google purgatory into Google hell. A quick Internet search led me to sites that said if this message appears, you may never get your account open again.
And that’s when I panicked, calling some number on a random site claiming to be Google support.
But they weren’t, and my sharp instincts snuffed this out after only some 60 minutes on the phone when they promised to get my account back in 10 to 15 days if I shelled out between $100 and $500.
Before ending the conversation, I gave them way too much information. Why? Because by this time, about 11 p.m. and after literally a full day of dealing with the issue, I was desperate and clutched at any straws – even if they felt fishy – that would provide hope of getting the account reopened.
“Just call up the real Google,” one well-meaning friend recommended.
“Great idea. How come I didn’t think of that?” I replied, sarcastically.
Of course I had called the real Google.
You can call Google 24/7, but good luck getting a human to deal with a disabled account. It is impossible. I called three different numbers, and got the same automated message to go to the Account Recovery link, something I must have done 1,000 times earlier. I was trapped in a cruel loop.
The only way to get it restored, another friend offered, was to find someone to talk to inside the company.
“Do you know anybody?” he asked.
It just so happens that my oldest son, The Lad, works in computers and has a friend at Google (I always knew there was a reason I loved that boy). The Lad called his friend, who apparently called somebody, who might have called somebody else, because a few hours later that fellow with the Indian accent was on the line, and in no time my password was reset, my equilibrium was reestablished and my life returned to normal.
The moral of the story: change your computer passwords often, activate two-step Google verification, give Google a recovery email that works, and – most importantly – befriend somebody at Google. You’ll probably need him someday.