Public Service Announcement: Internet Scam Alert!

Recently, I found myself a victim of a security scam that took me off guard. It was similar to those that you read about in the media, of victims being duped by scammers or fraudsters and you thought you wouldn’t fall for them, because you are more cautious or smarter. Well, I thought I was until I was a victim myself. 

I went to this website that offers free animated movies because I wanted to show the Hayao Miyazaki’s film ” Nausicaa of the Valley Of The Wind” to buddy.  It was not the first time I had accessed this site, and, admittedly, there are ads of young women in skimpy bikinis. But I figured it was a way for the site to make money, since it is offering free cartoons and animated movies. Besides, it is almost impossible to find streaming of Miyazaki’s movies online, and anyway I have McAfee Internet Security app installed on the PC.

That turnes out to be the first of a series of mistakes. Despite knowing there is no free lunch in this world, I was fallible like the next guy to think I would be the lucky one. Besides, I didn’t have any issues with this site during previous visits. So I clicked “play” when I found the movie. 

The next thing I knew, a Microsoft page appeared follows by another smaller window. The smaller window stated that Microsoft had detected that my computer was infiltrated by a malicious spyware and that an error response had been generated and a number was assigned to this problem. To add to the tension, an audio recording started playing repeatedly “please call the number on the page for technical support, otherwise we will shut down your computer for security reason”.  Ok, I know you might find this pretty dramatic and maybe even comical. But I panicked! Seriously, when you are in a situation where you know the site might not be entirely secure and something like this happened, you would freak out! (Or most people would.) So, without thinking, I called the number and was connected to a customer service center or what seemed to be judging from the chattering in the background. 

I asked the lady on the other line if this was Microsoft customer support, and she said she was from 3rd party technical support. I just went ahead to give her the error number, and she then explained that she would guide me through a scanning of my PC to detect the malware. But in order to do that I would need to give her control of the PC. I should have stopped there and think before acting. But again I didn’t, and this was the biggest mistake I made. I actually swallowed the story hook, line and sinker,  and stupidly ceded control to her! 

The woman went through the drive programs, while making comments about the problems the computer faced and that the McAfee was not useful because it could only detect viruses. All the while, I was nodding along, as if hynotized by the Alien light. Just then, my husband appeared, wondering what the commotion was about. He stared at the PC and asked, “what’s going on?” I gave him the story, and as I was at it, we were aghast to see a list of my husband ‘s accounts and corresponding passwords being displayed on the screen. That was when my husband flipped!

He took over the phone and demanded,”who are you? Why do you have control of our computer?” The woman gave the same line of being some technical support provider and I was the one who ceded control, but my Husband wasn’t gullible like me. He demanded to know where exactly she was calling from, and that was when she start threatening us. She said she had our number and address and would report us to the police. That pissed off my husband further, and he slammed the phone shut and turned off the computer. 

I was ordered to report to the police immediately, who instructed me to turn off the wireless connection or just not turn on the PC. And, needless to say, I received a fierce tongue lashing from my husband. We spent the next hour changing passwords for those major online accounts. But the biggest concern was whether that scammer had put in a spyware into our computer, and how could we get rid of it. 

I sought advice from my IT colleagues the next day, and was told the best thing I could do was to reset the PC to factory setting. However that requires the CD rom provided by the manufacturer. Considering that ours is at least 7 years old, we were not sure what happened to it since we had moved house during this period. 

My husband decided to do a PC reset, which I was told by the IT colleague, would only be 70-80% clean. But we couldn’t find the required CD rom, and this is the next best option. He also ran the McAfee scan, and did another PC reset the next day for assurance. This clean up turns out to be a blessing in disguise because the PC is We have decided not to use the computer for any sensitive transactions, and it’s now basically an educational tool for Buddy. The silver lining is that the computer is now working much better after the reset. I guess it had accumulated a lot of junk over the years.

So, the lesson from this moral story is that Microsoft doesn’t monitor our PCs and  will never proactively reach out to us to provide technical support. In fact the company is well aware of such scams and has provided advice on how to avoid them.  If any of you encounter something similar, don’t panic like me. If you have any slightest doubt, stop and seek advice from family members or trusted friends.

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