DIY and a Scam

When one of our clients decided to add a Wi-Fi extender in a home office, she contacted a phone number that purported to be a helpline from the manufacturer. It wasn’t, and it opened up a door for someone to gain access to sensitive information.

We’re certainly not opposed to any of our clients buying and installing their own technology. It can save you money and give you a better understanding of how your technological systems all fit together to make your life better. But there are a few things everyone should be aware of when they start the process – because you may not discover a problem until some damage has been done.

In this case, our client bought and set up a network extender from Netgear. She needed to strengthen an in-home network to accommodate her mother’s computer, and this was a reasonable step. When she ran into a problem, she called the manufacturer for help – or thought she did, and this is where problems began.

She said she called the phone number on the extender’s box. We won’t quibble. It could have come with a Google search. The lesson is more important than any finger-pointing. One of the problems with a Google search is that companies can place advertisements to show up above the “natural search” results. In times of stress, it’s easy to mistake an ad for a search result, and you click it. Both the advertiser and Google benefit from the ad; you visit a website you wouldn’t have otherwise gone to, and Google gets paid for directing you there. That’s business.

But when the advertiser is, shall we say, shady, it’s an ideal way to lure somebody into a scam. That’s what happened here. Our client clicked on what she thought was Netgear customer service but went to a website called Trucept. They walked her through a setup and told her she had no virus protection. She paid $300 for a package that included five years of security protection. That’s likely how they got into her network and likely were able to hack her mother’s computer.

Unbeknownst at that time, her mother started to receive online banking messages about owing a lot of money. That’s when we got a call. We told our client to shutdown her mother’s computer immediately and to call the bank. Then, we went to the Trucept website together, and to our experienced – and skeptical – eye, it had the look of scam all over it. Some of the telltale signs we saw were:

  • An address for a residence in Queens Village, NY
  • Lots of misspelled words
  • A PC Max Ultra Prime package for $800 with no customer reviews
  • A policy that requires two days before you ask for a refund (which gives them time to access a computer)

We were able to clean up her system and her mother’s. Now let’s look at things going forward.

First, be very careful about what you find on the internet. In the heat of trying to get something done in our overstressed lives, it’s easy to overlook something – especially a Google ad that looks like a search result. Take a deep breath before you click.

Second, get help from someone you know. It doesn’t have to be us. Call a friend. Go on Nextdoor Neighbor or Facebook and ask for a recommendation. Just don’t call a stranger out of the blue.

Third, only pay with a credit card for an online service. Credit cards have a mechanism in place to reverse charges. Processors record an IP address for every transaction, and they can tell where it took place.

We can help you install new systems or devices in your home or office, either in person or – typically – by walking you through the process. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for an appointment or a walkthrough. 

Robocalls: The 50-Ton Elephant

If you’ve reached the breaking point in robocalls, you’re not alone. We tracked ours for the last three months just to see how bad a problem it’s become. Since Jan. 29, tracking only our landline at home, we received 583 robocalls – an average of 6.5 calls per day, 24/7/365. And that’s with Nomorobo installed on our landline. Thirty of those calls were identified by a single phone number.

While you can debate the effectiveness of Nomorobo and a host of other apps that try to block telephone scammers, they’ve likely done as good a job as they can. The apps use databases of known robocallers or scammer call centers to identify a scam call and disconnect “known” scam calls. Another entry into the field, Jolly Roger Telephone, claims it can carry out our revenge fantasies by engaging scammers and tying up their valuable time.

Unfortunately, the databases also lead to a growing number of false positives. They rely on customer feedback to some extent, and that can have negative side effects. There’s no way to know how many legitimate phone numbers get into a database for any number of reasons. A legitimate call center, including an outgoing “800” number from a bank, airline or insurance company, may get blocked, delaying vital communication between a business and a customer.

Some of us have turned to apps from our phone carriers – mobile and landline – to block calls, but we face the same problem of false positives in their databases. We can unblock specific numbers, which we had to do to take care of many of non-profit clients. We only find out about the block after a client tells us we couldn’t be reached.

Scammers have adapted to protect their income sources, and it’s a no-holds-barred world. Would it surprise you if they’ve compromised the databases? They’ve also become better at spoofing local phone numbers so that you think someone in your community is calling. Sure, it’s possible to trace a phone call back to its origin in many cases, but it’s time-consuming just to get the process started. In the meantime, the scammers don’t need a large volume of victims to make money.

But most of us increasingly don’t answer the phone unless we know the number. We put up with the incessant ringing and hope that a legitimate caller will leave a voice mail, or we wind up blocking legitimate callers.

Unfortunately, there are no prospects for a quick resolution to the problem. In the absence of any kind of international laws with enforcement teeth, it will be up to private industry to find a solution. They’ll need financial incentives to develop and maintain centralized databases and technology that can detect and block scam calls faster and more effectively.

There’s even no incentive for us to get rid of landlines. Almost every bundle from a cable or satellite provider is a “triple play” of TV, internet and telephone.

We can help you set up Nomorobo. Their service is $1.99 per month for mobile phones and devices and free for landlines. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us if you have any questions about how call blocking works and how to set up an app to meet your needs.

In the meantime, if you pick up the phone and it seems suspicious, don’t give any vital information. Hang up immediately. You can always get additional information by going online to research appropriate contact info and initiating communication.

Kohls and Amazon Starting a Trend?

“If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” is an old adage. It applies to today’s retail environment, in which we love ordering stuff online but hate the process to return the stuff we don’t love. Kohls and Amazon may solve our problem while they help themselves with a new program.

Beginning in July, the companies will roll out nationally a program that began two years ago at 100 selected stores in Los Angeles, Chicago and Milwaukee. It should be a win-win-win for consumers, Amazon and Kohls when the program goes operational in some 1,150 locations in 48 states.

We expect to be able to return merchandise that doesn’t work out or when we change our minds. It’s especially true when we buy online because we’re buying it sight-unseen or without having tried on or tried out the product. In a report in the publication Retail Dive, more shoppers than ever factor returns into their purchasing decisions. They cite a report from Stockholm-based payments company Klarna, which shows that 82% of shoppers consider returns a routine part of shopping, while 84% say they’re more likely to buy from a store offering free returns. Sixty-two percent say they wouldn’t purchase from a store that doesn’t offer free returns.

The numbers show online shoppers want a more seamless experience and will reward retailers who deliver it. Nearly half (44%) of respondents say slow returns are the most frustrating part of the returns process, as anyone will attest to. You have to put the product back in the box (a challenge of its own), seal it and bring it to a designated shipper. Still, 86% say they are more likely to return to a retailer that offers free returns.

Clearly, we demand mulligans, and that creates logistics issues for online retailers.

First, Amazon, which could handle 50% of online purchases by 2023, doesn’t have many retail outlets. Yes, you can pick up Amazon-ordered merchandise at Whole Foods, and the company is experimenting with cashless retail stores, which can be pick-up points. But those types of stores are not equipped to take back large volumes of clothing or household goods. The return program with Kohls gives Amazon customers a convenient place to bring back unwanted items, and Kohls must obviously have the logistics network capable of handling the returns.

Kohls can win by getting traffic into its stores. That’s a no-brainer. Just because you return something doesn’t always mean you don’t need the item. Who knows? You might find just what you need or want – in the right size or better style – while you walk through the store. And if you carried an item into a store, you can certainly carry it home.

The return policy covers “eligible” items, which may have something to do with size. You’ll be able to find out when you initiate the return process online, which is a requirement. You’ll need to take care of authorizations and paperwork through your Amazon account.

Our only advice: Make sure you maintain tight security for your network and account passwords. Any questions, call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us.