Interview with PMS Clan’s Daniela Lao

Daniela Lao, also known as Gypsyfly, is the Event Staffing Manager for Pandora’s Mighty Soldiers and the PMS H2O Clan (http://www.pmcslan.com/).

1. Why, when and where was your first gaming experience?

My first gaming experience was around the NES. I was about three years or so when I first held the NES controller after watching my brother play Mario Brothers for a few hours. After that I never stopped playing. I started playing PC games in middle school and fell in love with games like Sim City, Doom, Myst, Quake and Unreal Tournament. My first competitive experience was really on Xbox playing multiplayer games like Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, and Crimson Skies, and Star Wars: Battlefront.

2. What type of gaming experiences do you prefer? They could be anything from classic tabletop, cards, video games, virtual reality or whatever.

I generally prefer video games but love a good Magic: The Gathering throw down. I’ve also been really getting into tabletop games like Werewolves and Fluxx.

3. What led you to decide to get further involved with gaming to the point of working in the industry?

After seeking out a group of like-minded ladies who liked competitive games, I realized that I had a knack for landing partnerships and sponsorships, organizing events, and generally handling community and business development aspects of our clan. We landed bigger sponsorships which led to my first real job in the gaming industry working for the Entertainment Consumers Association as a Chapter Community Manager. Before that I worked freelance for a few gaming websites writing reviews and news. Now I create my own content for my website, YouTube, and starting to stream on Twitch.

4. What type of education do you have and does it help you in your job?

I have a BA major in English and minor in Writing. It helps with certain aspects beyond the typical mechanics of knowing how to prepare press releases or create compelling content that will attract readers or sponsors. My education has given me the chance to land job opportunities usually out of reach for people who don’t have a degree, it’s also given me the ability to see things through a global lens outside of my own little world I had before going to college. Keep in mind, you don’t need a degree to become a success in gaming or to become an entrepreneur. However, going to college is an experience that colors everything else around you in different shades you may never have noticed before and it can only open doors-as long as you don’t put yourself in debt getting there.

5. What is a typical day like at your job? If there is no typical day, what are the general tasks that you must undertake?

Since I don’t have a typical “job”, there is no typical day. Some days I’ll get emails from members letting me know their interest in attending an event and I’ll make sure to have their updated info on file or I’ll get an email from a staffing company or publisher seeing if we have anyone to work an event and I go from there. Since we all hold volunteer roles in PMS Clan, no one makes any money, so we really do everything on our own time depending on our roles. Once a month we’ll meet to discuss progress, events, or issues in our department, but other than that as far as my role it’s pretty low-key. After 10 plus years of sweat, tears, toil, and old-fashioned work doing almost every role in the clan and inventing many of those roles I’m okay not having my hands in every aspect of the clan anymore. It’s great to be able to offer perspective and guidance to newer leaders and members now that I’ve been around so long.

6. What excites you the most about your job?

I’m excited that no matter how much time has passed when I see a PMS H2O Clan member we greet each other like best friends that talked the night before, it’s an inherent connection that never really goes away.

7. What is your proudest accomplishment within the industry?

I’m most proud of all the work I helped accomplish in PMS and how together with other leaders many who are still around and some who are gone, we grew one of the largest female clans in the world and friendliest communities in gaming.

8. Do you still find gaming to be a recreational option? If so, what motivates you to keep on gaming?

For many of my friends who directly work in the industry they ironically find they have less time to play games. Since I currently work for myself creating content, part of what I do requires that I play games, so I find I play more than I did before I worked for other companies. However, I’m mostly a PC gamer until I pick up a PS4 or Xbox One.

9. If it were up to you, what types of gaming and related technologies would you like to see in the future?

I’m most excited about VR and its practical applications in areas outside of gaming like the medical field. Although, the technology is not perfect I’m also really excited for Microsoft’s Hololens after watching the Minecraft demonstration during E3.

10. If someone wanted to look you up on the Internet, where should they start?

My website is a good place: DanielaLao.com. You can also find me on Twitter.com/GypsyflyPMS, Youtube.com/GypsyflyPMS, and Twitch.tv/GypsyflyPMS.

11. If someone wanted to also become part of the industry, be it to do what you do or something else entirely, what advice would you give them?

My entry was pretty unique and you’ll find that’s the case with many people in the gaming industry as it’s such a small community. If you want to be a developer, producer, or programmer that will definitely require schooling. If you have dedication and perseverance, you can teach yourself many skills and learn to develop your own indie game. If you want to enter community or PR, it definitely helps to have a degree and a big presence on various gaming websites, social media, and basically create a network and name for yourself as someone who can be trusted. If you want to write for games it helps to actually have written something of value like a novel or script that you can shop around in order to establish your name, having an online presence also helps in this case as well.

No matter what job you want in the industry I reiterate that this is still a small industry and it’s important not to burn bridges with anyone. It may be frustrating when a contact doesn’t respond right away or you have bad experience with someone at an event or industry gathering but make it a point not to be rude, pushy, or aggressive. What you email or post on Twitter has a nasty way of coming back to haunt if you decide to apply for a job at a developer. The contact you were rude to may one day be responsible for hiring you for a position you want. You may not remember them but they will remember you. A good habit to pick up is sending out thank you emails to those who you interview with for a job, not being pushy with contacts (give them your business card and leave them with a good first impression). Do good things like participate in charities like Extra Life or St. Jude Live, or spread the word about good news in the gaming industry. Basically, treat people with kindness and respect, work hard for what you want, and focus on that goal. It’s easy in this industry to be a jack of all trades and a master of none, try to be really good at one thing and run with it.

Advertisements

Interview with FUNCOM’s Terri Perkins

Terri Perkins is the Legal Director at FUNCOM (http://www.funcom.com/).

1. Why, when and where was your first gaming experience?

My first offline experiences were with the Atari 2600 and Space Invaders while living in Colorado as a teenager. The first PC game was “Adventure” on a Commodore 64, and the first multiplayer game was “Lambda Moo” with Internet in a Box. The motivation for all the games was a mixture of boredom and a curious nature.

2. What type of gaming experiences do you prefer?

They could be anything from classic tabletop, cards, video games, virtual reality or whatever.

MMOs (Massive Multiplayer Online) on a high-speed connection PC (Personal Computer) win hands down, however Plants vs. Zombies is always my fallback (There simply must be an end to the endless survival levels… And I must find it! I prefer multiplayer games with great customization, a good community and all out PvP (Player vs. Player) that needs a combat medic. At present, when time permits, I prefer “The Secret World” due to the challenges and PvP options as well as the brilliant puzzles.

3. What led you to decide to get further involved with gaming to the point of working in the industry?

Working with Thoric (Derek Snider) on Realms of Despair made us often wish “…If only we could get paid to do this”. After working on in-game events with Elonka Dunin as a volunteer in Dragon Realms and seeing that people were willing to pay for great content I was hooked. I trained the senior volunteers in EverQuest at its launch and then was asked to help design the volunteer program for Anarchy Online around 2001. I can’t draw stick people, can’t code… So I had to find other ways to help make games. I focused on the business/marketing/legal side.

At some point the day job became more of a hobby and the games were taking up the bulk of my days and nights. I wanted to work in the industry from its onset, but was limited as I couldn’t relocate due to being an Air Force wife and there were never gaming companies near the bases we were stationed at. It took quite a bit of convincing to get FUNCOM, a Norway based company, to hire me remotely.

The biggest motivation was that the games made so many people happy. I realized I probably wasn’t going to discover a cure for a disease or bring world peace but if my work could help developers make amazing virtual worlds that made people forget their worries for just awhile, that seemed like a good thing too.

4. What type of education do you have and does it help you in your job?

AA (Associate of Arts) in Photography, BS (Bachelor of Science) in Education before working in the industry and then a bit of law school and a Master’s in Business (MBA) while working in Games. I am constantly taking classes, most recently Constitutional Law, Philosophy and a course on Trademark Valuation. I would say that all education helps whether it’s learned in a classroom, in a book, online or from life in general. I’ve been a Professor part-time the last few years as well and really enjoy teaching about Games in Society and Media Law. I learn constantly from both jobs as well as from peers, students and others in the industries.

5. What is a typical day like at your job? If there is no typical day, what are the general tasks that you must undertake?

A typical day starts around 5 a.m. with massive emails and sorting out the urgent from the can wait a little bit. I try to touch base with colleagues around the globe and check the various legal alerts and game news. The middle parts of the day are primarily dealing with red tape related to a global online business. This may include issues with e-commerce, promotion law, ratings boards, intellectual property, terms of service, localization, advertising, contracts or corporate governance. Checking on ads, reports and invoices fit in there somewhere along with listening to a ton of ad salesmen. The afternoons are meetings and calls and the evenings are often research, writing or teaching. You never know what new issues will crop up or what new developments will cause you to stop and re-prioritize. There is always more work to do and always more things I need to learn and change is constant.

6. What excites you the most about your job?

To see or hear of a couple that fell in love in one of our worlds, the stories of people meeting their future business partner or friend for life or seeing someone be completely immersed in our world and knowing our products make people feel connected. I like to think I help navigate the legal world so that those who are able to create the magic can do so.

7. What is your proudest accomplishment within the industry?

Hrmmm… I am quite lucky to have been a part of some very great achievements so this is tough. Most of it is protected by Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA), but two things that come to mind. One was spearheading Anarchy Online’s in-game advertising. It was novel at the time, a big risk and something I had to fight for. It worked out wonderfully and played a part in changing the landscape of online games and helped put Funcom on the map. Second was being allowed to create and teach classes related to gaming and media for Long Island University, though it still seems surreal to be talking about events and people in gaming as History.

8. Do you still find gaming to be a recreational option?

Yes. I think games are a superb form of recreation. Humans need to play throughout their entire life and games are always there to fill that need… 24/7… 365… No matter the weather. I don’t do the marathon sessions anymore personally, but try to fit in a few hours a week.

9. If so, what motivates you to keep on gaming?

There’s always one more problem to solve, one more person to heal, one more level, one more item.

10. If it were up to you, what types of gaming and related technologies would you like to see in the future?

I’m very interested in virtual reality worlds and how emerging technologies will enhance them. I’d also like to see more e-book/game integration. It IS up to us to keep demanding more from our games and to drive the technologies that can make them happen.

11. If someone wanted to look you up on the Internet, where should they start?

LinkedIn.

12. If someone wanted to also become part of the industry, be it to do what you do or something else entirely, what advice would you give them?

Passion, perseverance and preparation. Working in games is hard work and isn’t for everyone. It takes a lot of persevering to find the right job and to keep it. Prepare yourself for whatever job you seek by educating yourself on what it takes, gaining those skills and continually gaining new skills to keep up with the inevitable changes.

Online Gamers & The Myths

This article originally appeared on JustGamers.De in 2003 and was reprinted with permission by its author, Terri “Ziana” Perkins.

For years I hid the fact that I was an online gamer. Not only do I choose to spend my leisure time in virtual worlds, so does everyone else in my household. We all have battled the stigma associated with being an online gamer. It was more or less safer to say you were frequenting chat rooms or on EBay than to admit you belonged to a virtual world. People just don’t understand online worlds or want to believe that anyone could spend a great deal of time on the internet and not be surfing porn. Attempts at trying to explain would result in the “oh suuuuure ” looks. When I began volunteering to work with games back in the early 90’s, the stigma was worse. People envisioned the pocket protector wearing, reclusive male that muttered to his self and stayed up late at night trying to hack into their bank account. Being a somewhat educated female that held a professional job by day didn’t fit the mold. Understandable, I suppose, from those afraid to venture into online worlds. At work or school, you just didn’t mention the online part of your life.

However, I was quite surprised to find similar views from online people. Many seemed sure they were the only sane person online and all others were some sort of freaks that you should keep your children away from. No one would believe that I was actually a girl on top of this. After working with a MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) for several years, two of the players were going to be in my hometown for a visit. I invited them out for dinner. They were in college and wanted to go, but stated that their parents insisted on meeting me first as they were convinced anyone online had to be an evil incarnate. I drove out to meet them and tried not to laugh as their entire family stared and I watched as they processed that I appeared to be just like their coworkers and friends rather than having a tail or whatever they had expected. The friends were allowed to go to dinner with me and apologized profusely for their parents. They said that, “They just don’t understand and think anyone we meet from an online game is out to kill you or something.” I cheered the parents for being wary of any strangers and looking out for their kids, but wondered where the fear of gamers in general came from. Even my own son had been affected by these myths. I dragged him along to a recent meeting of AO (Anarchy Online) fans and the first words out of his mouth were, “Wow…they look so normal!”

What makes people have this image of online gamers? Movies like “The Hackers” and “The Maze” certainly contributed, I suppose, but that I can understand. What I can’t understand is the media’s willingness to perpetuate this. Right after the horrible Columbine tragedy, as I sat watching this unbelievable horror play out in front of me, I noticed the reporters all mentioned one thing, the suspects were known to play an online game. They didn’t blame the game of course, but the innuendo was there. I wanted to scream, “Did they also drink Coke or perhaps read or watch television?” The duo had been bowling that morning, but that wasn’t mentioned. The fact that they played an online game was thrown in as if to explain it all. A few months back, there was a story all over the news about a child that died while their mother was playing a game online. If the parent was washing the dishes, having an affair, working, reading, sewing or building model trains, it doesn’t seem to merit attention, but if they were playing an online game, well that changes everything. I know, positive things aren’t as good for ratings I suppose, but the good is there and shouldn’t be overlooked. We rarely hear much about the people that state an online game saved their marriage or that they met their soul mate, best friend or spouse in an online game though those things happen more than the negatives. These stories are out there, but not picked up by the major news carriers. Fear is better for the ratings.

Recently, while speaking with a reporter who was to review Anarchy Online’s latest expansion pack, “Shadowlands”, he asked, “Is it true that it’s like crack? If I start playing, I won’t be able to stop?” First, I thought that he was joking, but he was not. I explained to him that despite the hype, the fact is that most gamers lead productive lives. Most are either employed full-time or attend college/university. I also pointed out that there is zero evidence to indicate online gaming is any more addictive than offline gaming.

A few days ago a large Swedish site was interviewing FUNCOM’s game director, Gaute Godager, and asked, “Most MMORPGs seems like they are only for geeks with special interests. What do you think needs to be done to have everyone play MMOs?”

Why are gamers considered to be geeks with special interests? Gamers are not, for the most part, any more or less social parasites than their non-gamer counterparts. Such wide stereotyping is not acceptable when applied to motorcycle enthusiasts, movie aficionados, avid readers or fitness buffs. Why are we more scorned than even couch potatoes?

The Myths:

Myth 1: Online gaming turns you into a recluse? Bzzzt.

Not according to 65 percent of students surveyed by the Pew Research Center (http://www.pewresearch.org/). The survey states that it does not interfere with the time that they would spend with family and friends.

Nick Yee has some wonderful articles about this topic on his own website (http://www.nickyee.com/daedalus/). Studies published by the Entertainment Software Association (http://www.theesa.com/) have revealed that the vast majority of people who play games do so with friends and family. Almost 40 percent of frequent game players play with friends, 33 percent play with siblings and about 25 percent play with their spouse and/or parent(s).

Online games are extremely social. Not only do you interact with people from all over the world virtually, but this also has led to numerous friendships and even romances in the “real world”. Social interaction is a major part of online gaming.

Myth 2: Online games are too violent and lead to violence. Bzzzt.

It isn’t often mentioned, but there is less violence in online gaming than console gaming according to research conducted at the Miami University of Ohio (http://www.miamioh.edu/). Neither I, nor any of my friends or family that play online games has ever been accused of being violent.

Myth 3: Gaming is only for males. Bzzzt.

Years ago, females were a definite minority in virtual worlds, but it has about evened out. Check out the The Free Expression Policy Project: Media Scholars’ Brief in St. Louis Video Games Censorship Case (http://www.fepproject.org/courtbriefs/stlouissummary.html).

Myth 4: Online gaming is only for kids? Bzzzt

Research conducted via the Pew Research Center has indicated that while senior citizens are not the largest percentage of online users, but that percentage is increasing. Currently the average age of gamers is 29 years of age, though 50 percent of all Americans age 6 and older play video games according to the Entertainment Software Association.

Myth 5: Playing online games has negative effects on education. Bzzzt.

Not necessarily so. Recent studies in a variety of mediums are showing that time spent studying by gamers is equivalent to that of non-gamers. Studies now also show that improved hand-eye coordination is linked to gaming and the therapeutic values of gaming are being investigated by several studies, including those by Princeton University (http://www.princeton.edu/) and the University of Rochester (http://www.rochester.edu/).

To say that games are a positive influence gets about the same reaction today that Magellan must have had received when proclaiming that the world was round. All of the people traveling with him understood it, but to those who had not seen it for themselves, the idea was just too bizarre. Online gamers are not all geeks, not all men, not all pre-teens and certainly not all dysfunctional people unable to think or do anything outside of gaming.

The online gamer is generally between the ages of 25 and 55, has at least some form of higher education and is just as likely to be female as male.

While anything done in excess or when done by some individuals can lead to negative consequences, online games are not out to destroy your life or even take it over. It’s a wonderful means of entertainment that has gotten a bum rap. We live in a very hectic world where everyone has limited free time. The choice to spend that leisure time in a virtual world with many thousands of fellow humans is a much more appealing activity to me, and a growing portion of the world, than to stare mindlessly at television content that I can merely watch and not participate in. The time is here for society to take a second look at online games, and those who play them, and to redefine the definition of a gamer.

Chasing the Video Game Dragon

For as long as I can remember, I have loved video games. When I was barely three years old, my uncle brought his Atari 2600 to my house. From the first time that I had played Pac-Man, Atlantis and Pitfall, I was bit by the video game bug. Playing E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial could not kill my love of video games. Shortly thereafter my brother and I received an Atari 2600 Junior for Christmas. I received the game Defender with the console and my brother received Journey Escape. We could not stop believing.

A few times a month my mother would cart my brother and me to the mall in the next town over to shop at Woolworth’s with my grandmother. On one of these trips I noticed a new store in the mall named Babbage’s. As we walked by I looked into the store and all I saw was computer and video game items. Prior to that experience the only place that I could see those things were inside of a J.C. Penny’s or Sears. Those stores had a habit of hiding new technology in some remote corner of the store. I had to wait for another trip to the mall before I could actually walk into Babbage’s.

It was time for another trip to the mall with my brother, mother and grandmother, but this time I was going to see everything that Babbage’s had to offer. On this day my grandmother had decided to eat lunch in the cafeteria at Woolworth’s, so I had convinced my mother to take me to Babbage’s.

As we finally entered the small store off the side of the food court, I could not believe what I was seeing. I did not know that such technology existed. Babbage’s at the time was primarily a computer store with a niche in video gaming. They were promoting the newest Apple and IBM computers as well as the upcoming Nintendo Entertainment System. While I did enjoy my Atari, the Nintendo was about to be released and it looked cool. Plus, we were unable to buy any new Atari games. The stores had stopped carrying them.

As time went on, I was given the Nintendo Entertainment System console for my eighth birthday. After that I began to accrue every Nintendo console sold. I even acquired the Sega Genesis CD 32X part by part. However, my brother’s interests moved onto computer gaming, starting with the Commodore 64.

When I turned 16, the first place that I had applied for a job at was Babbage’s. By then the staff knew me by my first name and I knew them. It became my dream to work at a video game store. Year after year I would apply for a job at Babbage’s until I started college. By this time FuncoLand had opened across the street from the mall and it was just more convenient to shop there. I had then begun submitting applications to FuncoLand and at the same time I was getting to know the staff. Eventually, the staff had convinced me to subscribe to Game Informer, even though I was an avid Nintendo Power reader and only owned Nintendo systems.

As the years passed, FuncoLand was renamed GameStop and eventually a GameStop opened in my town at the end of 2012. The people that I had come to know at the GameStop by the mall had long since left, so it seemed only natural to shop at the local store. I quickly became friends with the store’s management and soon discovered that two of my friends from college worked at the local GameStop.

The 2013 holiday season was fast approaching and within a week of applying to work at the local GameStop, I was hired. My dream had finally become a reality. For all of those years up until that point, the best that I could do to contribute to the video gaming industry was to write video game articles and reviews, many of which were published on the Internet and in magazines. I even became a chapter president for the Entertainment Consumers Association. However, finally working for a video game store trumped everything. No offense meant to those previously mentioned organizations.

From October 2013 to January 2014, I lived my dream. I helped customers find video games, quoted Game Informer articles as scripture and corrected those that sought out a Mario game for the Xbox 360. I also ran the register and stocked the shelves. Sure, my feet hurt whenever I worked more than five hours straight. I mean, they would have to when anyone stands for an upwards of nine hours a day on a hard floor. That still did not stop me from loving the job.

I wanted more. I eventually reached out to another GameStop when I learned that they had a seasonal opening because a new hire had quit. I was now working at two different GameStops. While I had a static schedule at the local store, the other store had me on call. Less than an hour after a call from them, I would be on site and ready to work. To top it off, I was also working a third job twice a week.

Throughout the years, I was told by various people that video game stores had high staff turnover rates. For one reason or another, employees would just quit on short or no notice. I had never felt that I had a reason to leave and even requested to work the overnight shift on Black Friday. It is referred to as the most cursed night of the year where the store is flooded by humanity and the shelves lie barren by its end. I was privileged enough to work with both the general manager and the district manager on that night. When it was all said and done, I was congratulated for my hard work and sent home for a long sleep.

At one point between both GameStops and my other job, I worked 11 days straight around the Christmas holiday. When January finally rolled around and I knew that my time with GameStop was short. I really wanted to prove that I was worth keeping on after the seasonal hire period had ended. Even though the assistant manager at the local store and I had an awkward moment one morning, that did not stop me from wanting to stick around. However, it was not to be, the local store was fully staffed.

At the other GameStop they were losing two shift managers, internally they are known as Keys seeing as they have the keys to the store. I was selected to replace the fourth key that was leaving to work at his family’s business. I was so excited. I had just lost my non-GameStop job when that business went out of business. I worked for a few more days at GameStop, even getting a chance to perform a few minor managerial tasks. However, it was not to be long-term. The former shift manager returned, requested his job back and I was dismissed.

I learned something very important about the arrangement of the GameStop stores. The wall shelves are arranged by brand popularity. In the stores where the register counter is located along one of the walls to the side of the entrance, the shelf displays begin on the opposite wall and wrap around the store. In the stores where the register counter is located at the back of the store, the wall display staggers between the side walls. First are the Microsoft games, then Sony and finally Nintendo. By brand, the new games are displayed first, then the pre-owned. Depending upon the demands of the area where the store is located, the space by the register counter may contain mobile products and/or accessories. In the middle of the store are gondolas. They contain accessories, computer and older games, gift, membership and point cards and various promotional displays. Not every store gets to display demos for every new game console.

It has been months now without work. I live in a part of Ohio where the economy is depressed. Even with a graduate degree in administration, finding a job is difficult and that is just plain depressing. When things get bleak, I just think back to those three months working at GameStop and remember how happy I once was. I then wish that I still worked there.

Internet Politician Episode XXIX: Hacking Social Media

We have reached a point in our society where we cannot survive without the Internet. It is sad but true and to the detriment of the minority, the Internet is here to stay. As with every new form of society comes a new counterculture. The 1770s English colonies had the American revolutionaries. The 1860s slave owners had the Underground Railroad. The 1940s Nazis had the Underground. The 1960s United States had the hippies. Globally today we have the hackers. It does not matter if the society is seen world-wide as respectable or not, having a counterculture seems almost natural.

This article will cover three areas of interest. A growing trend of Internet adversaries are popping up more frequently and the worst thing is that innocent parties are being impacted. What are the reasons innocent people are being targeted? Sometimes its greed, other times it is someone simply proving that they can do something few others can. Having a skill is commendable, hurting the innocent is not.

During April of 2011, hackers disrupted and then crashed the PlayStation Network (PSN). Sony, who owns PSN, saw a first attack attempt as a hiccup in the system. Once the second attack was successful in taking down the network, Sony realized that there was a problem. A week or two later Sony disclosed the extent of the damage and that customer information, including credit card numbers, were stolen. After over a month, PSN came back online and required every user to update their software to change their passwords.

Prior to PSN returning online, a number of people began reporting strange credit card charges. Most were proven to be valid complaints and quickly Sony decided to offer returning users identity theft protection in addition to other enticements. Only a few individuals were caught and the authorities did not come close to accounting for the total losses experienced by credit card holders.

The PSN case was not an isolated one. Other gaming companies like Sony experienced similar issues. However, they were on a much smaller scale. Gaming companies are the vastly more notable than an average citizen and surely attract more attention from hackers, but in the following cases it proves that anyone can be a victim.

Up until the fall of 2011, one of my sisters and I communicated via instant messaging (IM) program. One day out of the blue she began messaging me about something as if we were continuing a previous conversation. I cannot remember the details of the beginning of the conversation. The comments and questions were general enough to leave me guessing as they could have fit most anything that we spoke of previously.

After the sixth question, she requested that I assist her with a project. The first question for this project was something that I felt her mother would be best suited to answer, thus I told her to ask her mother. The next question was along the same lines and I told her, “I have the feeling that you may have asked the wrong person to assist you.” Without blinking, the next question continued and I got suspicious. I decided to change the topic and yet another question appeared. It was at this point that I thought something may be wrong. After closing the IM program, I left her a message via another means and thought nothing more about it.

The next time I logged in to the IM, the same messages in the same order from her reappeared. It was almost as soon as I logged in. This time instead of answering the questions, I asked questions of my own, but her questions kept coming. I logged out of the IM and then back in the messages started over again. I officially now knew one thing. Something hacked her IM account and they have a bot in place trying to obtain private information. The repeating patterns, the generic opening questions and the more personal questions that followed had told me what I needed to know.

I called my sister and informed her of the issue. As soon as she could, she changed her password and the problem never occurred again. One can only imagine how many people this bot tricked successfully and what information was garnered if the questioning was allowed to go on long enough. As long as we have log in identifications and passwords, more than instant messengers are susceptible to infiltration.

In January of 2012, a friend of mine started posting links to various oddly named websites on his Facebook account. With each post approximately 50 of his friends would be tagged so they would receive a notice. By the second strange post, I had noticed that something strange was going on. My friend was spamming his entire list of Facebook friends in alphabetical order. That is something that is uncharacteristic of him.

Before I click on any links posted anywhere without an explanation as to what they are, I always perform a search on the Internet about the website. The search indicated that there were complaints about Facebook spam pointing to the aforementioned website and that those who did visit the website would have their computer implanted with a virus. By the time the third post was made on his account, I began posting a warning that the account had been hacked and not to click on the link. For those that had, I encouraged them to run an anti-virus/anti-malware scan.

My next step was simple enough. I called my friend via telephone and informed them of the situation. He was obviously near his computer, because the spam stopped after the fifth or sixth message. He quickly deleted the posts, informed everyone that he had changed his password and apologized. As far as I am aware, only two people clicked the links and both ran the appropriate scans after the fact, eliminating any problems that they may have had.

The one thing in common with both the instant messenger and Facebook cases was that the hackers never changed the passwords of the accounts they infiltrated. The reason is simple. If they would have changed the passwords, the account owners would have been informed via e-mail and could have acted sooner to stop them.

In our very connected society, we have to be more vigilant about what is going on around us. Most people can tell when a family member or friend is acting out of character and that is only half the battle. The other half is being informed about things you should keep an eye out for on the Internet.