When the horrible thing appeared on my computer screen, I was stunned. First I froze. Then I forgot everything I know about computer safety.
I know enough not to have done what I did. I thought I was prepared for something like this. I have virus software on my computer and trusted professionals I can call.
The technical experts who helped me later told me the predators are getting more sophisticated. They can get past your virus software and the traps are designed to make you lose your head. “Don’t beat yourself up too much,” one of them said.
I am writing about this, different from my usual public policy topics, hoping some readers will benefit from my experience and will be better prepared than I was.
I put a search question into Google, clicked on what it showed me (something about senior citizen programs for what should have been my next column) and up popped this horrible thing.
In the background was an apparent pornography site. I saw the corners of photos of women in lewd postures and a few nasty words. In front, blocking most of this, was a white box saying the porn site had a virus and my computer had been locked by Microsoft for my protection. To save my computer I must call Microsoft at an 800 number in the box.
“Do not shut off your computer,” it warned me. The notice in the box looked, well, official.
If I had lost everything on that computer I would have been okay because it was all backed up. I would just lose a few days’ work. I forgot that.
I called the 800 number –the first thing you should never do. The woman who answered spoke with a foreign accent but clearly, and the connection was as clear as a bell. She assured me I was talking to Microsoft. She was very reassuring.
I was on the phone with her for almost an hour. I was even crazy enough to let her try to install a program that would give her access to my computer. Again, I know better. The gross offensiveness of the pornography in the background was making me crazy.
Fortunately, the program she sent did not install after several attempts. My trusted computer consultant told me later it was probably blocked by software he had installed.
Instead of fixing this virus, she started telling me about other security problems on my computer. I became more and more suspicious. At last she told me that to do everything that was needed, I would have to pay $400 for the five-year plan or $500 for the lifetime plan. I came to my senses.
I asked her to wait, went into another room and used another telephone to call my trusted tech people. They said just get off the phone, shut down your computer and we can fix it.
So, a few reminders:
Back up your whole computer frequently and your new data even more frequently, on a separate hard drive or other offline device.
If you are not technically knowledgeable, find someone who is, either a friend or a professional, who can help you in a jam. If you don’t know anyone, you might check at your local senior center.
If something awful pops up on your screen, shut down your computer and disconnect from the Internet immediately. The most effective way is to hold down the on-off button.
If you had called them expecting free technical advice and they ask you for money, hang up.
Never give out a credit card number, your social security number or other vital personal information. Never give access to your computer to anyone you don’t already know and trust.
Never call a phone number that has popped up on your screen. Never. It won’t be Microsoft.
Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2017