Last night my mother had a huge pop-up window suddenly appear over her entire Facebook screen.  It said (in her highly technical words),

“There is something really wrong with some serious stuff on your computer and it’s going to ruin everything if you don’t do some other stuff right away and it’s really bad and you need to fix it and it’s really wrong.”

Sounded bad. And wrong. Really.

So she tried to “x” it out and couldn’t get rid of it. Eventually she noticed a phone number at the bottom of the window that said, “Call for help”. And she did.

Some lovely lady answered who explained that her computer was simply one of many that had been infected with an awful virus and would slowly eat away and ruin everything my mother had ever held dear.  Then this overly helpful person explained that since my mom obviously had a really nice computer (because she totally knew that) she needed to fix this virulent danger IMMEDIATELY.

When my mom asked how she would be able to do that….thank HEAVENS this woman had an answer.

“We can send a qualified technician to your house for $400.  But, if you’d rather not have someone come to your home, we can do it online for $250.  Just give us your credit card information and we’ll get started right away!”

Uh……yeah.  That’s a freakin’ genius idea.

My mother then tried to explain to this lady that she actually had a friend who was a programmer that could fix it for her (which she does), and the crook–er, lady–started getting belligerent and telling her that only “qualified” and “certified” people should attempt to remedy such an obviously highly technical malady.

At this point my mom, who does NOT like to be pushed around, asked the lady is she was affiliated with her internet provider.  There was a bit of stuttering on the other end as the woman tried to explain that they were contractors working for CableOne and blah blah blah and blah.  This was the last red flag necessary for my mother, and she hung up.

Luckily her friend was able to fix the nasty little virus that afternoon.  Even more luckily….the only personal information my mom gave them was her email.  Even MORE luckily, her friend installed some serious new anti-virus programs for her.

WHAT IS IT WITH PEOPLE?

Alas, this post is not about good vs evil in the world.  It’s not about how we need to pray for the special kind of jerks who want to prey on our vintage population.  It’s not even about how proud I am of my mom for recognizing the scam for what it was. (But I am really proud!)

It’s about the very real need to educate computer-users about predators.

When someone gains access into the internet, they are presented with literally billions of different portals through which they can throw their identification, safety, purity, life savings, marriages and peace of mind. What may seem like common sense to those of us who began using computers at an older more–a-hem–mature stage of life may not even occur to other people.  I’m not just talking about warning our younger generation about the dangers of child predators and pornography…although those are very real and frightening issues.  I’m also speaking of warning our older generation about the fact that there are some not-so-nice people out there who are  just searching for people who want to take advantage of them.

We need to teach those who are venturing into cyberspace some very important guidelines.  This goes for elementary-age kids all the way up to my 90-something great-aunt who friended me on Facebook the other day.  These are rules for me, you, and any of us who communicate over the internet at all.  There are probably many more than I am including here….but I think this covers the basics.

  1.  If someone who claims to be your internet provider asks for your email and other personal facts….they are NOT who they say they are. Your internet provider already has that information. You may be asked to provide your email address to verify something, but do NOT add any other information to it.
  2. Unless you’re over the age of 40 there is never any reason to provide your age. Even then….what’s the point?  If you are young then you will be opening yourself to scary child predators.  If you are older you will be opening yourself to scary elder predators.  Don’t open yourself!
  3. It’s never a good idea to enter ANY personal information info a window that “pops up” over your regular screen.  If it’s not something you were looking for–and instead it came looking for you….stay away.
  4. If an email looks odd…don’t open it.  If it has garbled patterns of speech of an inappropriate subject title erase it immediately.  If it somehow turns out that someone you know actually sent it….they will probably contact you and ask if you received it.  Otherwise the minute you click on it?  Virus city.
  5. There are VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY few reasons you would ever need to enter your address into any site on the internet.  Yes, a billing and shipping address are required when ordering things…but that’s about it.  Using a trusted third-party source such as “paypal” can help protect you in that area.  Giving your address means that scary people know how to find you.  That. Is. Bad.
  6. Anything that you put on the internet is literally there forever.  Even if you erase it.  There is actually really no such thing as erasing in cyberspace.  There are actually 5,494,301 backups that float around and appear when it will be the very worst scenario.
  7. If something seems “too good to be true” it probably is.  There are people out there who aren’t interested in your money or possessions or anything else….but just love knowing that they have wrecked havoc in someone’ life.  Even if a site doesn’t request your personal information…be very careful about which “pop-ups” you chose to see and which ads you click on.  Sometimes people just want to know they infected and ruined your computer.

The point here is:  be smart.  Be savvy.  Be discerning.  If you wouldn’t share something with a shady stranger who knocks on your door around 10:30pm holding a large black duffel bag…don’t share it with someone who asks you for it online. Let’s keep educating our loved ones about the dangers, and then we can hopefully have another few amazing generations who can successfully and safely navigate cyberspace.

Because you know what?  It’s really fun swapping stories and playing (mostly losing actually) “words with friends” with my great-aunt.  I really like doing some serious smack talking with my nephew on Instagram.  The internet can be an awesome place.  But there are still some serious schmucks out there….and it’s up to us to know how to avoid them.

 

 

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