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Commentary: Scammed!

My mother told me many times that I wasn't as smart as I thought I was ("the smartest people do the dumbest things") but I never paid attention. As the years passed, her message has often proved to be true — including last week.

Last Friday, I was on my computer digging out some information about Johnny Appleseed or something else and suddenly a message started flashing on the screen and a voice started speaking warning me that I had a virus and to immediately call a phone number for help. I was warned to not turn off the computer or all programs would be shut down.

The whole thing gave the impression of a three-alarm fire. It sounded like a technological panic attack. So, I called the number. I got this guy who started asking questions about my computer, what program I was on, etc. and he directed me to leave the computer on while I talked to him. The first problem was that the computer was still talking while the guy was talking on the phone and I was hearing two voices at the same time and couldn't understand either one. I explained the situation and eventually the computer stopped talking to me.

The second problem was that the guy on the phone had this pronounced East Indian accent. I was probably talking to a guy in India and I was having a horrible time trying to understand him. Some things he had to repeat two or three times before I got it.

Most of his questions I couldn't answer. He caught on quickly and said, "you're not a computer geek are you?" I had to admit that I wasn't. He said my virus could be cleaned up from his end for $99.91. But I had a question: "How do I know this isn't a scam?" He chuckled like that was a dumb question and went into a long explanation as to why I should realize this wasn't a scam. Between his use of computer jargon and his accent, I had no idea what he was saying.

To shorten a long story, I forgot everything my mother warned me about and authorized the cleanup for $99.91. But before he could go ahead I authorized a $99.91 hit on my debit card. But I didn't give him my social security number or my account number. I thought I was smarter than my mother gave me credit for. Then I watched the screen and the technician "cleaned up" my virus problem. The entire operation must have taken two hours.

We got together with my daughter Goldilocks, her family and some friends on Sunday afternoon and I explained what I had done. Immediately people who knew more about computers than I do (98% of the population) said it doesn't work that way and that Google, Yahoo and all the big server companies wouldn't interrupt like that. They thought I'd been scammed and better get to my bank Monday morning to assure that I wasn't out any more than $99.91.

On Monday morning the bank showed me that the call I'd received came from London and the rip-off was limited to $99.91 at that point, but advised me to immediately cancel my debit card and check with a computer guru to see what other mischief the bandits had done on my computer. That is being checked out right now — adding to my cost. The guru said yes, I'd been scammed — they'd seen three more just like it the week before. They said somebody should be warning the public.

So this is my story and my warning to those of you who aren't as smart as you think you are or pretend to be. When you get an alarm like I got, hang up and talk to an expert before you do business with the three alarm guys. Don't fall for a panic attack. I could have been burned a lot worse than I was and I hope you don't get burned at all.

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