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. 

Pick up the Phone

Until we better develop telepathic technology and autonomous vehicles, my IT service colleagues and I agree that picking up the telephone is the fastest way to get emergency help for tech issues. Problems that can be resolved in minutes can take hours when you text instead of talk.

One issue with one of our clients illustrates how our infatuation with text instead of talk can add to a problem instead of speeding its resolution. I should preface the story by telling you that our client is tech savvy, and that we had a good laugh about it afterward. But while the problem was ongoing, it was pretty grim.

The issue had to do with a password that had a combination of letters and numbers. When entering the password, the user typed the letters on the keyboard and the numbers from the numeric keypad. While it makes no sense to us mere mortals, the keypad puts the numbers in random places. So, when the user entered the password, it was rejected. The solution would have been to use the keyboard for all characters.

A phone call would have solved it. Instead, there was a series of five texts over the course of an hour, each escalating in intensity. One of the texts implored me to call them. I didn’t see the texts because I was in a meeting and then driving. It’s fair to say that when you have someone in a meeting, you want their full attention – without that person glancing at a phone and responding to other messages. That’s how we operate unless it’s an emergency or an urgent situation. I also turn off text reception when we drive – and that’s an important safety move.

Why would a phone call have been faster? If I am unable to take the call, my receptionist takes it and gets a description of the problem and your sense of urgency. We have a system that allows our receptionist to break into a meeting if it’s judged an emergency. Not being able to log in to a website to conduct business would have been deemed an emergency.

Once I got word that our client couldn’t log in, I reset the password remotely. When the client reset the password and couldn’t log in, I was able to discover the root of the problem and let the client know about using the keyboard instead of the numeric keypad for entering password numbers.

This story illustrates how texting is abused. It’s not meant to be a means of emergency communications – except in those cases where they’re used in 9-1-1 emergencies where a caller’s safety could be endangered by talking. (And if you’re in that situation, we hope you have the presence of mind to silence your phone for all notifications.) If you need to contact someone who you know is in a car, it only makes sense to call and not text.

The moral of this story: Call us – 973-433-6676 – if you have an emergency or urgent problem. You’ll get a faster response and resolution.