A karmic lesson in Internet fraud

Michael
Michael Johansen
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Call it weird karma: my gullibility saved me from my own neglectfulness and in return my neglectfulness saved me from my gullibility.

It started a week ago. I was surfing the Internet, heading no particular direction, when somewhere I pressed the wrong button. It flung a door to my computer wide open and something horrible rushed in. Within minutes, my Netbook was crippled by a virus so vicious it almost left smoking craters on the keyboard.

Wait, the story didn't start there. It really started two months ago - long before I knew anything bad was happening.

According to my credit card company, I had used my card somewhere where something that might have been fraud might have taken place. When the company couldn't get hold of me by telephone, they cancelled my card with no further notice.

Maybe the weird good karma was to make up for what happened next. Since I'm practising financial restraint, I had refrained from using my card all through February and well into March, and so did not discover that it had been cancelled. That almost cost me dearly because I depend on the card for an automatic monthly payment towards my medical insurance.

When that stopped, the insurance company also tried to phone me. When they couldn't, they cancelled me, too.

Fortunately, the insurance company sent a letter informing me of their action and I finally learned about both cancellations. Once the circumstances came to light, the companies acted reasonably.

The credit card company sent me a new card and the insurance company happily reinstated my policy.

Everything looked fine, but this was only the start. It was afterwards that the virus invaded my laptop, blocking every program and appearing to infect dozens of files with a host of foul digital germs.

I sat watching helplessly as one horror after another slithered into my computer, attacking and conquering my browsers, my media players and my word processors. When it was done, smoke rose from the back of the screen while the Internet security program blared a loud red alert.

In my family, my brother's the electronics wizard, not me. He could build a mnemonic memory circuit using bearskins, stone knives, some radio parts and the power source from a phaser, but I can only switch on a ready-made laptop and hope it works.

I tried to root out the disease myself, searching through files for the dangerous programs, but I found none of them. I thought perhaps they were too well hidden for me to discover.

I knew I should bring the netbook to a repair shop, but the Internet security that had alerted me to the viral invasion offered me what appeared to be a quicker and easier solution.

I believed it. The virus had succeeded in convincing me that it was a demo security program I already had on my laptop, one I had already used with satisfaction. To activate the full program and eliminate the virus, all I had to do was pay $60 by Visa or Mastercard.

I entered my numbers onto the supposedly secure form, which thereafter did nothing but stall and sputter. The truth of the double con finally dawned on me and I shut down the connection - too late to do any good.

When I called to cancel my new card, I expected my available credit to have vanished into the Internet, but I was given the pleasing news that it was still there.

Then I was told the money that was to have paid my delinquent insurance bill was still there, too. The credit company had already cancelled my card and was blocking payments because I was five days late paying a $20 balance on the monthly minimum.

That's karma for you: if I'd paid the full minimum on time I might have lost hundreds to a fraudster, but if I hadn't succumbed to the fraud I might have lost thousands by losing my insurance once again.

So, in case karma doesn't lend a hand, here's advice from a computer repairman: don't trust anything that pops up on your screen all by itself.

Oh yeah, and don't forget to make those minimum payments, either.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: Visa, Mastercard

Geographic location: Labrador

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