McMaster UniversityMcMaster University Retirees Association (MURA)

Computer scamming, phishing, adware and spyware, Fall 2008

September 30, 2008 8:23 PM | Anonymous

- by Marianne Van der Wel

WARNING! ALERT! While computers can be a wonderful tool, they also attract the negative. There are many folks on the internet who will try to scam or defraud you! How? They’ll send you an email that, at best, will annoy you or, at worst, will - if you respond - empty your bank account or download a destructive virus to your computer. As you browse the web, your activity is being watched and you may get unwanted emails as a result as well as adware/spyware when visiting certain sites.

Some Definitions

SCAM: An annoying e-mail that asks you to buy something, or get a bigger, better widget.

PHISHING: This is generally more dangerous as the message will try to trick you into replying with personal information or downloading a destructive virus which can be in an attachment. Damage can also occur simply by opening a suggested web site in the message.

ADWARE: Wanted or unwanted pop-up windows that can be destructive. One encounter asked if we wanted to buy something. We said no! It started to download anyway and we shut the computer down immediately to interrupt the download.

SPYWARE: An unwanted program downloaded to your computer without your knowledge when visiting a web site. Usually it just tries to figure our your interests so you can be targeted by advertisers. Sometimes the program can be destructive. You may have read about people who ended up with huge long distance phone bills as a result of spyware.

Protecting Yourself

  1. Be alert and ever vigilant. Never respond to an email asking for personal information no matter how authentic a message or web site looks. Such emails can come from a cable company, a phone company, a bank, a security company, an update for software, including antivirus software (that you can’t quite remember having or not) or an offer for a trip or investment opportunity. This is especially devious if the message happens to be a company you deal with. Only offer personal information if you initiate the transaction and then only what is normally required. One software company wanted a birth date along with the credit card information in order to make a purchase online. Too much information in our opinion and we did not proceed with the order.
  2. Use an antivirus program: An antivirus program is a must but when choosing one ask what the program detects. Some detect only viruses while others also track adware, spyware etc. Have a program that checks your emails and make sure this feature is turned on. Also perform a full system scan on a regular basis (say once a week). Another consideration in choosing an antivirus program is the resources it uses...some can considerably slow down your computer.
  3. Choosing an email and web page browser: While your best protection is being alert and ever vigilant, email and web browsers are not created equal when it comes to alerting you to scams and minimizing phishing/adware. Do look into alternatives to Microsoft’s Outlook Express and Explorer. For example: Mozilla’s free Thunderbird (email) and Firefox (web browser), both part of the Open Source consortium and Apple’s Safari which is now available for Windows. We have even noted differences in the behaviour of Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail.

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