By JOHN KAMINSKI
I had already given a good friend of mine a solution to this very problem weeks ago when she asked me about what to do when a professional looking message instantly freezes up your computer and demands you call this 800 number if you ever want to see your data again. The most dangerous and also most common reaction to this unexpected surprise is panic. Do not forfeit your mental acuity by losing your composure. STAY CALM!
The simple answer is . . . turn off your computer by any means necessary. Walk away for a half hour or so. And when you return, the problem will be gone.
But when this surprise was sprung on me, well, my sudden brain cramp will long be debated, at least by me. Too many things on my mind is the usual excuse. Uncertain at what one is actually doing is the backup excuse.
Unfortunately neither rationale kept me from losing $500 to two fellows who had me absolutely convinced they were Apple computer technicians, but weren’t.
I felt like a frog sitting on a lily pad watching the storm approach, ready to spring and swim for my life. My computer screen had gone blank and suddenly this white screen appeared with its ominous message in black letters:
DO NOT ATTEMPT TO TURN OFF YOUR COMPUTER. YOU HAVE A VIRUS. TO FIX IT CALL THE NUMBER ON YOUR SCREEN.
There definitely were too many things on my mind: letters I have to answer, bills I have to pay, story fragments that need to be cleaned, news ideas that I need to research, trash that needs to be taken out, dishes that need to be done, and most of all, story ideas I need to hang onto before they disappear into the vapor.
At the time it was happening I didn’t know whether or not I had lost everything on my computer, so I sent out a message to two regular receivers of my emails thinking I’d be cyber silent for some time. After a nervous night trying not to think about how I’d lost everything I’d written for the last ten years, a trip to the Apple store the next day quickly dissolved my fears.
The techs were terrific and surmised these scammers were only interested in cash, which they got from me in the form of irretrievable I-tunes gift cards (because they had cleverly explained I couldn’t use my debit card because my computer was compromised, which it wasn’t).
These scammers were terrific. They were Indians. And I was thinking at the time they were trying to convince me they were Apple techs how efficient and competent they were. They wouldn’t have installed malware, the real Apple tech told me the next day, in case they got caught and had to defend themselves as legitimate computer guys. Anyway, my beloved computer was clean when checked at the Apple store at the new Sarasota mall.
But this is all about my own stupidity.
I knew how to deal with this situation initially. I had pulled up a ten year old copy of a story I had written in 2009, The Beautiful Iranians, about the Behistun inscription, and was going to recycle it as “Beware the people of the lie”. The original had several links in it. When I checked the first one, it was of course dead, so I put “link dead” in parentheses and moved on to the next one.
When I clicked it, all hell broke loose.
Long ago I read a story that this mainly happens when opening porn sites.
A professional looking message locks up your computer, saying to call a certain 800 number to remedy the situation. The proper course of action in these circumstances is NOT TO PANIC, but to shut down your computer by any means possible and walk away for a half hour. And when you reopen, the whole mess will have disappeared and everything will be fine.
With so many other things on my mind at the time, and utterly forgetting what i had already learned, I panicked.
First I shut down the computer (unplugging is probably the best way) but impatience took over and I didn’t wait more than a few minutes. I had warned my friend about this, as I mentioned above, only a few weeks earlier. This had enabled her to avoid this identical problem recently.
But when I reopened, the warning was still there. The computer was !still locked. And my brain said, “This must be real!” So I called the 800 number! Eventually I was switched to “an Apple tech”. These two Indian scammers, they were utterly convincing. They took over my computer. Learned all my passwords. They explained I had a virus relating to Adobe Acrobat (which I had incurred once before!). As I said, the explanation given to me by these guys was so utterly convincing that I was taken in at once. After all, I’m just a computer amateur.
Then they explained my Apple insurance had expired and I had to reenlist or they couldn’t perform the necessary repairs. In a thoroughly panicked state, I failed to remember there is no such thing as Apple insurance. Lifetime free service comes with the purchase price.
Then they cleverly explained I couldn’t use my debit card because my computer was compromised and suggested using I Tunes cards, which they read by camera over the Internet — $500 worth.
So I waited for them to call back another two hours, growing more apprehensive by the minute.
When they finally did, they said they had tried valiantly but some of the “drivers” in my computer had been permanently damaged and I had to spend another $400 to buy new ones! My head was spinning by this time. I was wondering what had hit me. My bank account was about to be totally drained. I do live in a low income housing project, after all.
But at that very moment, in the nick of time, I was rescued! By my friend and benefactor—let’s call him Ralph. This is the the guy who had bought me this Mac book as well as my I-phone. He had fixed my dilapidated car for me many years ago. He had helped me construct my website and been an all-around best friend to me. Currently, however, he was busy building a house near his grandchildren in another state. When he finally got in touch, and I told him what was happening to me, he bellowed: “Hang up immediately!”
And then of course I remembered what I had known all along: that I should never have engaged with these scammers in the first place. Any dialogue with these con artists is deadly. You need to cut them off AT ONCE!
I could make this story a lot longer, but I’ve had enough of it.
I’m working on other stories. I couldn’t find my 2009 story The Beautiful Iranians on the web anywhere. And when I examined my copy of it, I noticed that each paragraph had been slowly eaten away from the end toward the beginning, so I trashed it and it’s now gone.
I’m working on a similar story at the moment.
In other news, my old website, johnkaminski.info, has disappeared into the ether, taking hundreds of stories with it, probably because I never really knew who actually owned it or paid the rent on it. This was because it was done for free for five years by a fellow from Ireland, a person I haven’t heard from in more than five years. For all I know, he may be dead, but I hope not.
I think I have copies of many of those stories on my computer, which hung on the cusp of oblivion for about 24 hours. So I will spend the rest of the day perusing more pleasant matters. A walk on the beach seems in order.
And I will remember, forever, that the proper course of action for any untoward intrusion on your computer screen is to turn it off by any means possible—and WAIT WAIT WAIT a suitable amount of time, a minimum half an hour—before returning to cyberspace. Because by then the scammer will have gotten bored and scooted off in search of other victims.