An alleged hack-job from hell prompted a local woman to show up at the Fort Worth Weekly office last fall to describe how strange and scary information was flooding into her iPhone and computers. I wrote an article about how dealing with hacked technological devices for several years had strained the marriage of Stacey and Andy Freedman and disrupted their personal relationships with their children and others (“Information, Please,” Oct. 17, 2018).
I was unable to determine who hacked the couple’s devices or why. My article explained only the trauma associated with such a major hacking. I described Stacey as frantic, fidgety, and struggling to finish her sentences due to her stress, and I quoted her saying she had considered “driving off a cliff” or checking in to a mental facility.
Not long after our story was published, a producer from Dr Phil contacted the couple and invited them to appear on the nationally syndicated TV show. The Freedmans were only vaguely familiar with Dr. Phil McGraw, they said.
“We’ve never seen the show,” Stacey said. “We both work full-time.”
They hoped the TV producers might pull in a forensics expert to determine the source of their hacker, end their technological nightmare, and provide them with peace of mind for the first time since Stacey’s phone first showed signs of being hacked in 2013.
Instead, they felt exploited yet again – first by the hacker, then by a TV doctor.
Stacey figured the producers had read the Weekly article and determined she was having a mental breakdown and wanted her on the show.
“When I came in to Fort Worth Weekly, I was at my wits’ end and really hyper,” Stacey said.
The Freedmans accepted the invitation thinking the producers might try to determine how the couple had been hacked. The show aired on Wednesday, March 20, under the title, “I’ve Been Hacked for Five Years and It’s Destroying My Family.”
“Stacey and Andy claim for the past five years their lives have been torn apart by a vicious hacker who will stop at nothing to torture them,” Dr. Phil’s website describes the segment. “They say this attack is personal and meant to drive Stacey crazy and destroy their marriage. They claim there have been multiple instances of the hacker making it look like Andy is having an affair. Stacey says she’s suspicious of everyone being the hacker, even her own family.”
The producers interviewed the couple prior to the taping in Los Angeles, but the Freedmans didn’t meet Dr. Phil until the cameras were rolling, they said.
On the show, Dr. Phil introduced them to a forensics analyst who worked at a company that examines digital evidence. The analyst had examined Stacey’s phone and found no evidence of hacking, even though Stacey had shown him that her phone was inundated with photos and odd materials ranging from a list of all the horses and jockeys who had competed in the Kentucky Derby to a how-to tutorial on how to rob ATM machines.
Dr. Phil said his staff members had monitored Stacey’s phone for 10 days without seeing any of the strange apps, photos, memes, or other materials surfacing anew.
“I’m not saying you don’t have 167,000 photos on your phone because you do,” Dr. Phil said. “The question is, did they get there from a hacker? And the answer is no. I got you the answers. Now, I’m getting you the help.”
Dr. Phil appeared most intent on convincing Stacey to seek mental help. A medical doctor said the prescription medicines taken by Stacey for lupus and hormonal problems might be causing hallucinations, delirium, and psychosis.
“You might be victimizing yourself with this medication,” Dr. Phil told her on the show while Stacey stared grimly.
Dr. Phil introduced Stacey to Dr. Daniel Suzuki, a mental health physician at Las Encinas, a clinic in Pasadena, California, that treats chemically dependent people struggling with substance abuse.
“These people would be ideal for helping you,” Dr. Phil said.
Suzuki said he would treat Stacey, although he said he was “confused” about whether or not she had been hacked.
“What’s not confusing is how much suffering this has caused you and your family,” Suzuki said. “If you come to our hospital, our team can help you understand more what’s happened.”
After the show’s taping ended, Stacey checked in to the rehab facility and stayed for a week. Her discharge papers indicated no problems with substance abuse or side effects from prescription medicines, only that she suffered from lupus and obsessive compulsive disorder. Stacey feels used by the Dr. Phil producers.
“They’ve already got in their minds how they want to do the show,” Stacey said. “They didn’t listen to how things happened. We’re all upset. We really thought it would go a different way. We were on stage maybe 15 or 20 minutes. How can you explain all this in 15 or 20 minutes?”
After Stacey was discharged from Las Encinas, she returned to Fort Worth and purchased a new iPhone. Within days, she said, a horde of unwanted apps and materials flooded her new phone. She came to the Weekly office last month to show me how corrupted her new phone had become. For instance, it had received all of the contracts for every actor and producer who had worked on The Smurfs 2, a movie from 2013.
“We got all the contracts for how much they were going to pay these people to show up at premieres,” Andy said. “Why do we have that?”
Soon after, Stacey’s phone received a list of process servers in Texas, including their names, phone numbers, and other personal information.
Dr. Phil told the Freedmans on air that they would have 20 hours worth of access to forensic analysts after the show to more closely examine the couple’s tech problems. Stacey said she called numerous times and spoke with several people, but none could explain why her phone received the unwanted barrage of random info.
Looking back, Stacey said she feels “dumb and gullible” for appearing on the show. The Freedmans figured it might portray Stacey as addled but were willing to suffer embarrassment in hopes that someone might determine the source of the hack job.
“We had nothing else to lose,” Andy said. “She doesn’t want to be on TV being exposed to ridicule. I didn’t either. But if that’s what it takes to move us forward … ”
The Freedmans’ phones remain hacked and corrupted, yet the couple is no closer to determining why.
Dr. Phil didn’t delve into the Freedmans’ visits to Fort Worth police, the FBI, phone companies, and others who have acknowledged the hacking.
“We’re really not any better off than when we started,” Andy said. “We knew they were making a TV show and there would be drama. What upset us is, you don’t have time to go into, ‘Hey, what about this evidence?’ They edit and cut out a lot of comments. We’ve been told by every phone company that it’s a personal attack. Now [Dr. Phil] is minimizing it and saying this only happened because Stacey is obsessed and this is all made up.”