Op-Ed: Computer Scams: 21st Century Monsters

Last week, I revealed that I was the target of an email scam. Because the would-be blackmailer accurately identified passwords I had used years ago, it piqued my interest.

First of all, I knew that if I received this, so did hundreds, if not thousands, of others. Sure enough, within days, my suspicions were confirmed.  The column had 3,000 hits online at www.SFGN.com within three days. You cared because you were impacted. Many of us were.

My concerns were very real because as a lawyer, I know how many of my older clients, born in the age of the Hula Hoop, are not skillful with computers. But they are not alone. These scams ensnare everyone.

Many of the email scams threatening to reveal porn contacts in fact target younger people on simple hook up sites like Grindr. So yes, your age does not matter. If you have a computer, a credit card, or surf the Net, there are sharks out there waiting to bite. Forget about the Deep State. You need to be alert to the Dark Side.

Too many times my law office has had to hold the hand of someone whose fortunes were illegitimately taken. Some of the most successful scams come from persons and companies pretending to be American Express or even the IRS.  They seemed so legitimate, and you, a friend, or family member fell for it.

The reality is the scam can be authored anywhere by anyone. You have to be an alert Boy Scout, and be prepared. It could be created by, like Donald Trump once said in a debate with Hillary, “a 400-pound guy in his underwear in a bedroom in Arkansas.”  You just don’t know. 

If you are scrolling through your emails late at night, damn, stay awake. We live in a world where computers are not only Messiahs, but Monsters. Make sure you are ordering from Amazon and not Abra Cadabra in Addis Abbaba.

You are being targeted by a malicious software called Ransomware. Since 2012, it has exploded internationally, and infects millions of us, like sugar ants at a barbecue in a trailer park in South Florida. They might go away for now, but they will be back.

Ransomware attacks are typically carried out using a Trojan that is disguised as a legitimate file that the user is tricked into downloading or opening when it arrives as an email attachment. By 2015, the FBI had determined that an entity named CryptoWall had accrued over $18 million.

Like me, most of you are clueless to this talk of technology. You just don’t want to get ripped off, sucker punched or fooled by these emails. They set off viruses, and once you hit the reply or send button, it’s too late. You’ve been scammed.

Because it is so difficult to trace some of these sophisticated digital currencies, prosecuting the perpetrators is difficult and rare. Victims of the night do not often find vindication the next day.

I mentioned some of these scams to Detective Bonnie Owens of the Wilton Manors Police Department just last week. She had heard of all of them. She receives them in her own emails. And she acknowledged, “it’s everywhere, and unfortunately, so are the victims.” 

Today, the technology has become even more sophisticated. Scammers have upped their game. More advanced malware uses a technique called cryptoviral extortion. This process encrypts the victim's files, making them inaccessible, and demands a ransom payment to decrypt them. 

You probably have at least one or two friends whose computers were even blocked by some of these techniques. My suggestion is you work with computer companies to keep your web browsers updated, your software modern, and your passwords protected. 

The whole thing blows me away. I have enough trouble remembering to brush my teeth three times a day, and now I have to worry about cyberhygiene and be protected from viruses called Bad Rabbit.

I do know this. I have learned a few things in my day. First, when a guy asks you to pull down your pants to get ahead in life, run away. Second, when someone asks you for money in an email, hit the delete button.  Third, life with a Smith Corona typewriter never was all that bad.

We probably all could have survived without iPhone 38’s. In fact, I might take a 38 revolver to one of them just for the hell of it.  

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