A womAn who has dedicated the past six years to helping mothers cope with the trauma of losing a child has had her reputation dragged through the mud by cyber-criminals who stole her identity.
Bonita Suckling, who founded and runs the Durban-based non-governmental organisation, Rainbows and Smiles, said hackers took over her Gmail and Facebook accounts on Friday and sent messages to everyone on her extensive contact list appealing for help.
On Saturday the hackers shut down her phone to prevent her alerting people.
Suckling established Rainbows and Smiles in 2009. Her son, Jed, died of brain cancer in July 2011.
“I want to die, my whole reputation, everything I worked for, is gone. For years I have run my NGO in memory of my son, giving up everything materialistically and exposing myself emotionally to the heartache of running an NGO that supports children who often pass away.”
E-mails sent from her account by the hackers read: “I am in Limassol, Cyprus at the moment and I just misplaced my bag containing my phone, passport and money in a cab. I need your assistance, please let me know if you can be of any help.”
Suckling, 41, said she had “more than 13 000 contacts” on her Gmail account.
People who responded to the e-mail received replies with banking details where they were asked to deposit money, she said.
The Durban North resident said she became aware something was wrong when victims started to send her messages on WhatsApp telling her they had sent the money through MoneyGram, as she had requested.
It did not stop there: she tried to warn people of the scam that was happening via Facebook, but that too was hacked.
She said she had more than 3 000 friends on the social media site.
The hacker then used her page to solicit more money from her Facebook friends and used information gleaned from previous messages to dupe them into believing it was her.
Suckling’s mother tried, in vain, to come to the rescue by warning others by tagging her in a message about what was happening to her daughter. But the hacker stopped her from doing this by changing the settings that prevented Suckling from being tagged.
The cybercriminals have also opened a duplicate Facebook account in Suckling’s name.
Her trouble did not end there though. On Saturday her phone was shut down.
“I can no longer warn people via SMS,” an increasingly desperate Suckling said.
Private investigator and forensic expert Rick Crouch said Suckling had been the victim of what has become a common scam.
He said cybercrime was huge in South Africa compared with the rest of the world because people were less aware of it.
“Even after the person opens a case, the police are limited in their resources to deal with them and people would normally hire private investigators to get help and work with the police.
“Unfortunately the SAPS don’t know what to do with it”, because local police are understaffed and lack the resources.
He said there was a cybercrimes division in Pretoria which had more resources, but even this was not enough.
“These guys (the criminals) are not one step ahead, they’re kilometres ahead,” Crouch said, adding that the conviction rate in such crimes was low.
He advised people to ensure that they had strong passwords and to make sure that they shredded old documents.
He said shredding documents was important becasue syndicates harvested information from documents like telephone bills and bank statements to commit crimes.
Also, make sure you accept only people whom you personally know on Facebook to guard against hackers digging for information.
Hawks spokesman, Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi, said: “Cybercrime in the country is increasing.”
He said the Hawks were getting more personnel to fight cybercrime.
“People need to be very careful.”
He said social media could be used for human trafficking and other criminal activities.
Suckling has opened a case with Durban North police.
How are you? I hope this email finds you well. I am in Limassol, Cyprus at the moment and I just misplaced my bag containing my phone, passport and money in a Cab. I need your assistance, please let me know if you can be of any help. Thank you