Snopes is Your Friend


DEAR MISS MANNERS: At least several times a month, I receive “warnings” from well-intentioned friends. These are usually messages that have been forwarded many, many times, containing alerts about computer viruses, credit card scams, health issues, dying children yearning for business cards and the like.

Trouble is, that when I check the accuracy of these well-meaning messages, the vast majority turn out to be false alarms, many of which have been circulating for years.

Of course I always ignore the “please forward this to all your friends,” but what do I do vis-a-vis the sender? It seems rude to return a message telling them they’ve alarmed folks unnecessarily, but my not doing so simply encourages them to continue the practice of sending on unverified information.

Miss Manners follows up with some good advice

GENTLE READER: The phrase you need, if you wish to alert your friends to their mistakes, is “You will be relieved to hear that…”

Miss Manners’ idea here is to show sympathy for their concern, thus enabling you to explain how you found out, thus possibly encouraging them to check themselves before sending out the alarm.

So, we have a reader with a relatable problem, a nice tidy answer.  All should be good.

But I have to drive home a point.  While you can ignore these warnings all you like.  ALWAYS CHECK THEM OUT before you respond.

A few weeks ago, the following warning showed up in my email from a friend of my mom.

Yesterday I received a strange phone call. The man politely explained that he was a technician for Windows and that they had received complaints lately that Windows was causing a problem with their computers and he was calling to repair the problem. He asked me to sit at my computer and he would tell me what to do to fix the problem. Anyone who knows me will know that I question every little thing that involves even a whiff of a hoax, so I questioned the polite man on the other end of the phone. Why was he calling me? Why hadn’t the Windows company made it known that a problem existed with their program? Were they calling every person with Windows on their computer (which would have been in the millions, since every computer sold has a Windows program in it)? Why didn’t I receive notice that a Windows rep would be calling me? In the end he was a little jangled by my questions, but kept quietly insisting that I just sit at my computer, turn it on and follow his instructions. I told him I don’t do anything like this over the phone and would check with my provider if his claim was valid. He said my provider had nothing to do since it was a Windows problem. In the end he (again) politely thanked me and hung up. Of course, I went to my computer and entered Windows scam. There it was!

It’s a scam that has been going on since 2008. A “windows tech” (exactly what the man had claimed to be) calls to help cleanse your system of the problem caused by windows. He will ask you to look for an ev e nt war ning. You will find something, since there are many harmless such things on computers. He will instruct you how to get rid of these. The “technician” will instruct you to use a legitimate logmein123.comservice. This allows the hacker (because thats what the “technician”) is to gain remote access to systems that infect your computer with malware and takes as much personal information as they want off your computer, even before you hang up! That includes all banking information, credit cards, SS number and everything else about you. They will sometimes tell you your computer is about to crash so you will be frightened enough to cooperate. Their intent is to gather information about you and to leave behind malware. another thing they tell you is that they gained you name from your ISP. None of what they say is true, but they sound convincing.

Microsoft Does Not Contact Anyone without what is called a support ticket, and thy do not monitor the millions of computers in the world looking for signs of problems or infections. A phone call like this is a very big and dangerous hoax. When I told the man I was not going to do this until I checked with my provider and other sources, he thanked me for listening and said he was sorry I did not choose to use his help. All the time he was soft spoken and polite and sounded like he might be legitimate. These peopl are Not! Just hang up. After I hung up I thought of several things I hadn’t asked for, like how did he get my number and Name (he even knew my Name!!). Tomorrow I will tell the Town Watch leader about this, and maybe call the computer expert our township uses to monitor computer fraud, to tell him about his hoax. so, keep a watch. If some one wants information from you over the phone (surveys, credit card companies and such) tell them you will check thier reque st first and You will call Them back. Don’t fall for any phone scam, even requests for donations for police and firemen!

If you want to know more, just enter Windows scam and Goggle it up. There are explanations and warnings all over the internet.

I see these things all the time, and it has all the hallmarks of a hoax.  Bad English, confusing Windows (a program) with Microsoft (a company), surprise and alarm, and somehow the writer out-smarts the scammer and wins in the end. Pretty standard, and I wrote back to my friend saying as much.  That would seem to end things,  except for one thing.
Every word was absolutely true.  It actually happened. Not only did he have that happen to him, he didn’t just forward the e-mail, he actually wrote the whole damn thing.  Every word.  I was floored and my friend was pissed. Understandable, since I basically called him gullible and told him to check his facts without checking my own.
I learned my lesson, and hopefully you will too.  Even professional advice givers need to follow their own advice. No matter how stupid and far fetched a story it seems, depending on your friends, it could actually be true. Make sure you check your facts before you you hit send.