Thursday, April 25, 2013

My Walmart account was hacked

Summary: Lessons from my Walmart account hacking incident.
Out of the blue, I get an email from Walmart:
Dear Alek Davis,

Personal information associated with your account - name, email address and/or password - has been successfully updated as requested. If the account change included an update to the email, for your added security this account update confirmation is sent to both the new and old email addresses. All future emails will be sent to the new address only.

If the account information update is correct, no further action is needed.

If you did not make these changes to your account, please call us immediately at 1-800-966-6546.

If you have any questions, please reply to this email and let us know how we can help.

We appreciate the opportunity to assist you and look forward to your next visit.


Your Customer Service Team
I try to log on to my Walmart account and fail to authenticate. I attempt to use the I Forgot My Password feature, but get a message stating that my email address is not registered with Walmart. It's obvious: someone hacked my Walmart account!

I call the above mentioned 1-800 number, but the customer support department is closed (it's around 10 PM PST, but apparently, the world's largest retailer cannot afford 24x7 customer support). There is no option to report the problem online. What's a girl to do?

The best thing I can do is send an email reply describing the problem. I get a canned response indicating that I will get a human response within 24 hours. Okay, what's next?

Results from a quick Google search suggest that a common pattern of Walmart hacking involves using saved credit card data to purchase digital goods. So, I log on to my credit card's account (for the card that I normally use at and see two unauthorized transactions: one in the amount of $60 (turns out to be 2 Straight Talk 1000-Minute, 1000-Text, 30MB Web Access Service Cards), and another in the amount of $50 (2 SKYPE $25 Prepaid eGift Cards). I call the credit card company to report fraud. I also checked other credit cards that could've been on file with Walmart, but do not notice anything suspicious.

I try logging on to again, and notice a strange address popping up in the email field of the Sign In form for a second just before it is overwritten by my original (and no longer good) address filled in by LastPass. Apparently, I have a low-security personalization cookie, that is not good for anything important (like checking or changing account info, or submitting orders), but it could give me some info about the hacker. I disable LastPass and reload the form. Get the email field populated with this address: Hello, hacker. How're you doing?

Silly idea: what if I try to log in with my original password? The hacker can't be that careless, but... One... two... three... I'm in! Dear,, thank you for failing Hacking 101. I change my email address back, change the password, and remove all credit card info from the account. I see the two orders in the processing state, and successfully cancel one of them. I use a form to send an order cancellation request for the second purchase, but apparently the Skype eGift cards have been already sent. Well, it's now between Walmart and my credit card company to dispute the charge.

What else can I do? I go to the Yahoo! Security Center and try to find an option to report fraudulent activity coming from a Yahoo! email, but Yahoo! does not provide any way to do this (via a form, email, or phone).

The next morning, I call Walmart (thank God Walmart can afford customer support during normal business hours) to report the incident to a human and have a short conversation with a nice woman (btw, have the companies started bringing customer support back from the foreign lands? talking to a motivated native speaker is so refreshing!). Now, it's time to get back to life, but first, lessons learned:
  1. Never save credit card information when shopping online! Yeah, it's convenient, but may eventually cause more hassles.
  2. Read #1.
And a couple of comments:
  • Walmart: No 24x7 customer support? Seriously? Even for security issues? Come on, you can do better!
  • Walmart: Good call on sending notification to old customer's email on personal profile changes. Have I not seen this message, it would have taken me much longer to realize that my account was hacked.
  • Walmart: Shouldn't user activity that starts with personal profile (and email) changes and is followed by an immediate purchase of digital goods raise a flag for suspicious activity? I know that you rush to get a payment, but you see: you lost $60 (which could've easily been $110), and I'm sure you need that money to hire more support people (at the very least, for security related issues).
  • Yahoo!: Would it be too much to ask for some way of reporting fraudulent activity originating from a Yahoo! email account? Just asking.
Have a nice day, everyone. Be safe!