NEW CASTLE —
A few weeks ago, my computer went crazy.
Boxes filled with warning notices and ominous-looking yellow triangles popped up on my screen, to tell me my system was filled with dangerous viruses. I was in imminent danger of having all sorts of personal information, passwords and financial data stolen.
The only hope, these warnings informed me, was to sign up for the 2012 version of Vista Home Security, an antivirus program that would defeat the dangerous virus horde. But I needed to act quickly — or else.
It was all pretty scary stuff.
However, I didn’t act quickly; instead, I checked it out. Call it the journalist in me. Or perhaps I’m naturally skeptical — especially when someone is trying to frighten me into doing something. What was popping up on my computer screen didn’t add up.
I have two layers of antivirus protection and a firewall on my computer. How could it suddenly suffer so many Internet infections?
Also, I was unfamiliar with Vista Home Security. Where did it come from, and why was it trying to do me a favor?
So I Googled it and discovered Vista Home Security was a subtle virus capable of slipping past many antivirus programs. And rather than protect my computer, its real goal was to get me to sign up for its top protection, which would require me to submit a credit card number.
In other words, the virus wouldn’t steal my information, I would give it up gladly.
My guess is that a lot of people fall for this scam, in part because it looks real and in part because fear is a powerful human motivator. And the people behind such scams know that.
In fact, it’s fear and greed that make the vast majority of scams so dangerous. If people bothered to stop and think, it’s doubtful they ever would fall for them.
Unfortunately a lot of people do. That’s why my email is full of requests from people in far-off lands who are trying to smuggle millions of dollars out of their countries, and they just happened to select me to assist with the effort.
Naturally, I will receive a big cut of the loot for any assistance I render. All I need to do is provide a bank account number or some other information to make it possible.
Scams come in countless varieties these days, made possible by the technology of the Internet and telephones. There’s not a week that goes by without several coming to our attention in the newsroom.
Sometimes, people seem to be surprised these scams exist. I’m surprised when I come across individuals who haven’t been jaded by them. They’re everywhere.
And they change constantly. No source of information can keep up with the task of alerting the public to new ones that crop up.
But if they come in assorted forms and in various degrees of sophistication, how are people supposed to protect themselves and their information?
The answer is simple: Be suspicious.
Skepticism is a wonderful quality. It not only protects against scams, it helps to inoculate us from all manner of manipulation.
We’re going to need it in the coming election season, when we’re bombarded by all those scary and negative ads that are coming our way.
NEW CASTLE —
A few weeks ago, my computer went crazy.
- Mitchel Olszak
Mitchel Olszak: Observing the stock market prompts lots of confusion
A casual observer of Wall Street may conclude investors in American stocks are insane. Perhaps that’s because many of them are. Or at least their financial decisions appear to support this contention.
Mitchel Olszak: Personal skepticism is best defense against scams
The caller said she had been targeted by a telephone scam. She wanted me to put something in the paper to warn others. I asked if she had contacted police about the matter.
Mitchel Olszak: Autumn becomes the time to report for leaf duty
This time of year, I find myself frequently looking skyward. I’m not pondering the clouds, anticipating snow or scanning for NSA drones. Rather, I’m looking at the trees.
Mitchel Olszak: Questions abound in New Castle tuition scandal
With the release of names in the New Castle school district tuition scandal, a local drama comes to a close. Well, not exactly. Countless questions still hang over the matter of non-resident employees who failed to pay required tuition for their children who attended New Castle schools.
Mitchel Olszak: Increasing numbers of Americans are catching on to Congress
A new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll says 60 percent of Americans would like to fire everyone in Congress. When I read this, my thought was: What’s wrong with the other 40 percent?
Mitchel Olszak: Budget nonsense bugs nation
The other day, I was watching a stink bug as it tried to crawl up the inside of a glass lampshade. Looking at the trapped, mindless creature, I couldn’t help but think of the United States Congress.
Mitchel Olszak: Newspapers are still a mystery to some people
Newspapers have been around for a long time. So you would think people would have gotten the hang of them by now. Yet I constantly encounter folks who seem to have no idea about what we do and the role we play in providing information.
Mitchel Olszak: The heat is on for planet Earth
Warming temperatures are destined to wipe out all life on planet Earth. So human beings will need to find a new home in order to survive. That’s the conclusion of research released last week that calculated the point when Earth will no longer be habitable.
Mitchel Olszak: Pennsylvania’s gambling dependency
Privatization of public services can be a good thing. But not always. These matters always warrant a case-by case assessment. Ideally, privatization serves the public interest when it promotes innovation, efficiency and perhaps even some measure of competition.
Mitchel Olszak: NSA defenders miss bigger picture
The political establishment in Washington has circled the wagons around the National Security Agency. This is the intelligence organization tasked with a key aspect of national defense: Monitoring potential threats and gathering information designed to protect America and its interests.
- More Mitchel Olszak Headlines
- Mitchel Olszak: Observing the stock market prompts lots of confusion