The time I spend to write this column was supposed to have been spent with a friend whom I have not seen in years. But she had to cancel her visit because a computer hacker took over her invaluable laptop, so she will spend this weekend getting it fixed, instead.
Ironically, a very savvy senior citizen friend was scammed this week by the very same M.O. (“modus operandi”). Seems hacking is really making the rounds, and falling victim to these and other ploys to get us to part with our money and technology is not something that only happens to folks we hear about in news stories.
Nope — these things can happen to any one of us. And if the two examples of people close to me are any indications, they just might happen, unless we take ongoing steps to avoid falling prey.
A few techniques can help steel us against would-be scammers.
— Inform ourselves. If we use technology of any kind, we need to keep apprised of the latest news about scams and how to avoid them. Yes, virus and malware software can help. But we need to keep learning about the things that can infiltrate our firewalls and other barriers to scammers.
The particular scam that took up the time and almost the money of the two people I know started with a scary pop-up on their computers that warned them that hackers had potentially gotten past their installed security systems.
These pop-ups purported to belong to a major computer maker, and the telephone number my friends were instructed to call “Immediately!” were couched in language to lead them to think that they were calling the computer maker itself. Except they weren’t …
— Don’t engage. Another ongoing scam is a telephone call purporting to be from one of several known businesses or government entities. Sometimes, these begin with a recording, “We have been trying to reach you …” and the voice might sound very authoritative. Or, it might be a “live body,” and sound equally emphatic.
But in these cases, the best reaction is to hang up. Or, you might do what I’ve done a few times, which is when the person says, “This is (name) from (company),” respond with, “No, it isn’t.” Then hang up. Either way, do not engage in conversations with these people, and never divulge personal information.
— Double- and triple-check. If you are sent an email requesting access to your account, personal information or any other sensitive data, contact your email service provider separate from the email you received and ask if it is legitimate.
Or, call a trusted computer service immediately. The moment I called my trusted technician on behalf of one of my friends, he said, “It’s a scam.” Treat your double-checking like a technology deep breath — validate before you act.
— Communicate. I know it might be embarrassing to think that you could fall prey to a scam. I understand that some embarrassments might be seemingly better treated with silence.
But talking about what happens helps avoid future problems. It takes away the stealth from the scammers. It can make a tremendous difference for someone else.
This week, in my circle of friends, someone older and someone not-so-old got taken in by the same scam. These things can happen to anyone. By communicating about them, we’re protecting one another and reminding ourselves to be vigilant.
I could have spent this time doing something else. After all, my weekend calendar has unexpectedly been opened back up! But, I am, frankly, angry that somewhere someone thinks it’s all right to use the technology we rely on daily to scam good people.
Enough! May we be scammed no more!