Hard Lesson Learned: A Hacker Victim’s Story  

Since October of last year, I always try to have my phone’s ringer turned up if I am not working, and I’m much more adamant about picking up a phone call. Like many people, I tended to silence my phone a lot because of the constant alarms and alerts. Well, if I would have heard and answered my phone on October 18, 2019, I probably would have saved my future mother-in-law $1,000 by preventing scammers from gaining access to her PC.

I had just gotten home from a college class, and had put my phone down while doing homework. It was ringing but I didn’t know it. When I finally checked my phone, I saw the missed calls and tried  calling my mother-in-law back, but she didn’t pick up. An hour went by before my fiancee finally called me frantic because her mom’s computer got hacked!

I rushed over to their house and immediately  saw the stress in her mom’s eyes. She had fallen victim to a persuasive speech about her “critical computer problem.” She gave these people money to fix it without even realizing who they were or what the problem was.

Immediately, I changed all of her settings to the strictest possible while making sure all access to the computer through external sources was shut off. As a programmer, I know that if a scammer could get into her PC, they could try to embed something that would give them access to steal more information. One of my concerns was that they could have installed a Key Logger onto her PC. This allows passwords and sensitive data to be sent to them as she typed them on her computer. I fervently searched her system and files, and I found a Key Logger file. I removed it right away.

You may be asking yourself, how did this all happen? How did she get in a position that allowed a scammer into her computer? Well, she is not alone. According to the Microsoft Digital Crime Unit, in 2018, there was a total of $1.5 billion stole from around 3.3 million users due to online scams. She became a part of that statistic for 2019.

In my mother-in-law’s case, she followed a link in Pinterest and a screen popped up saying her computer was hacked and to call Microsoft. Following random links is a great way to allow an unwanted person into your computer. Never follow a link if you don’t know where it is going, and never ever download things off of random websites.

Of course, the pop up was kind enough to give the number to call in big, bold print. The automated voice at the beginning of the call sounded authentic to Microsoft, so she didn’t second guess. At this point, she was just worried that she would lose all the photos and important information on her PC. Believing she was speaking to Microsoft, they informed her that, due to security reasons, they do not take personal credit cards or PayPal. Her only safe option was to go to the store and buy two $500 Google Play Store gift cards and pay by using those. They gave her a time limit and told her the computer would be wiped clean by the so-called “hackers.” She reluctantly told me that she went to the store and came back with the cards, then used a remote desktop connection to allow them into her PC to “fix” the problem. The Google Play Store gift card numbers were entered in on a text file for her secure payment as the REAL hacker sat typing random commands into the computer, just like you would see in a movie. When the page went away, he hung up and was never heard from again.

A hard lesson learned. Although I still cannot understand how anyone falls for this scheme, it became real that day. I took her through a computer crash course on how to avoid this next time:

  • Press CTRL – ALT – DELETE.
  • Open the task manager.
  • Right-click on the browser.
  • Press “End Task.”

Boom! Problem solved! Be careful when searching the web and always be wary of who you are allowing to “help” you with your computer issues. If the methodology sounds sketchy, then it most likely is. Always make sure that you have your computer data backed up and your personal info secured on your PC or not on it at all. If you think you have been hacked, contact someone reputable immediately to help you fix the issue.  

Another way to protect yourself is to invest in cyber insurance. Many insurance companies offer solutions for both personal and business protection. Contact your independent agent to learn more about these coverages and how they can protect you, your family, and your business from the effects of cybercrime.

Finally, I want to share this video. Many don’t think about the consequences of clicking on a link or attachment in an e-mail that contains a virus, but the ripple effect from that one click can quickly become a tidal wave of trouble! Watch below to learn more about protecting not only yourself, but your place of employment!

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