Spamalot, Scamalot

Since the new year, one of my older email accounts has been the target of about 20 phishing emails a day.  I see on user forums that it’s happening to a lot of people, too.  Phishing, for those of you who think I’ve misspelled something, is the type of spam that wants people to divulge some financial information so the criminal can suck money out their accounts.  I sometimes wonder if the “phishing” option on my email app does anything at all, but I keep reporting the ones that get through my spam filters.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

I’ve gotten too close for comfort on two scams in the last few years – those were enough to train me on most phishing tactics.  Now leery of every offer of improved computer performance, enhanced sexual prowess, and great health secrets, I also ignore any email I didn’t ask for with any statement calling me to action, urgent or not.  Sorry, honest marketers, it’s just too spooky in cyberspace.  Even this blog has opened me up to scammers who want to “partner with me” on some endeavor in the name of helping the autistic community.  Didn’t ask for it, didn’t smell right, no deal.  Easily avoided.

The latest error on my part was early 2022 when I got a work email from my direct superior asking for my cell phone number.  My anxiety kicked in.  I’m too quick to jump to help people, especially when it’s the boss.  I immediately replied with my digits.  THEN I noticed that the email address was not his name – like our typical email addresses.  Oh, Snap!  I got a text:  “need some information for a presentation.”  I knew enough to email the real supervisor to check and see if he had perhaps used an old college email address.  Nope, and he needed nothing from me.  Close call.  The scammer had my cell number, but I blocked him.  I wished I had looked at the email address and avoided responding at all.  He didn’t bother me again.

My daughter-in-law works at a credit union, and she and I have discussed various podcasts we enjoy.  Last year she pointed out “The Perfect Scam” podcast from AARP, and I’ve enjoyed hearing the horror stories, and a few tales of victories from scam victims.  Frank Abagnale of “Catch Me if You Can” fame appears on some of the early episodes.  Worth a listen if you want to educate yourself to scammer tactics.  Don’t buy gift cards for anyone you don’t know, especially if they called you and requested you to do it!

The earlier of the two scams that fooled me initially was on an older PC.  I used a hand-me-down laptop from my son for years before finally “air-gapping” it – cutting the Wi-Fi off and only using it without any internet connection.  He converted to a MacBook and used the older laptop to repay me for some car insurance!  It had originally had a Microsoft Vista operating system, but the manufacturer upgraded it to Windows 7 before returning it to him with a repaired power button.  I used it for years until it got too slow.  I did later upgrade it to Windows 10 – so it still works – but I air-gapped it about 3 years ago.  It’s a living dinosaur, and it may have the scars to prove it.

Christmas 2018, I received a gift I had asked for:  a turntable that converted music on vinyl to digital form.  The device, I soon realized, did NOT create mp3s, but gave me audio files in the data-heavy wav format.  Feeling like a deejay again, I was trying to make my plan work with the older laptop as I researched mp3 conversion programs. (I gave up after about 5 albums worth of work – it was too laborious for me to convert the songs again to mp3 so I could play them on my phone – and wav format took too much space.)

While I was sitting in the living room converting old records to digital format – my laptop sounded a short alarm, and a voice began speaking:  “Microsoft has detected malicious software on your PC.  Your information is at risk.  Please call us immediately at 1-800-whatever so we can repair your system.”  It repeated the audible message.

I was frustrated, disappointed in my anti-virus protection, and worried.  I called the number.  First mistake! (Or maybe poking around the web for free mp3 conversion programs was first….)  I spoke to a helpful female voice who asked me to keep my laptop running while she accessed my files to show me the viruses.  I had been on the phone with Microsoft support once before, so I assumed I was going to be fine.

Apparently, I had made enough of a scene to catch my son’s attention.  He saved me that day – he wrote me a sign in all caps, “YOU ARE BEING SCAMMED!!!”  The thought had not crossed my mind, and I still hesitated in disbelief.  Me?  Scammed?  But she’s already shown me some of the infected areas!  I gotta fix my laptop!  Just pride or autistic confusion?  Probably both.  I don’t remember how long it took – a whole minute or two — but I finally decided to hang up. 

Crisis averted!  I dropped the Wi-Fi connection, ran some anti-malware protection, and the laptop worked fine after that.  It was about a 5-minute call altogether.  I had not willingly provided any payment information, but how would I really know if the scammer found something on my computer that they could use – to my harm?  It still embarrasses me to this day.

I fired up the old laptop while scripting this post – just to see what was on there.  It’s mostly pics and old documents.  It’s amazing that the old unit still does anything!  While poking around, I serendipitously ran into a copy of the report I had made about the scamming incident to an Internet crime site that the local police provided to me.  I had not remembered that I quickly followed up with police about the attempted scam.

Valuable lessons come from the tough, intense, and sometimes painful events of our lives.  I try to park the Mini in a safe place in parking lots if all possible to avoid dings.  Avoiding scammers may not be as easy but coming to the brink of being scammed has heightened my awareness.  At work, my company is proactive in this arena – sending out training – and “test phishing” emails to see if we pass the test.  Just like I avoid “wolfpacks” on the highways, I’ve learned to hover over links in unsolicited texts and emails WITHOUT clicking.  I do my best to safeguard my personal information, and to keep up with PC security updates.  But as scammers’ tactics evolve, I’ll need to keep shiftin’.

PS – Maybe you thought this was going to be a Monty Python fanpost?  Maybe later…wink, wink, nudge, nudge…

Published by Bart Shoaf

Blogging about victories and challenges as a middle-aged man with a late diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

One thought on “Spamalot, Scamalot

  1. One must be ever vigilant in this computer age because bad people are out there trying to take advantage of you. Be careful and stay safe!

    Like

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