Dialing Up a Scam: Avoiding the Auto-Dialer Virus
For many, the daily walk to the mailbox evokes mixed feelings: The glee that your favorite monthly magazine - or a friend's hand-written letter (quite a surprise in the e-mail age) may be waiting is countered by anxiety of how many bills the postman left you.
Now, imagine coming across your phone bill, thicker and heavier than normal. When you open it, instead of "statementstuffers" from the phone company's marketing department, the bill is dozens of pages long ending in a one-month total of almost $5,400.
A quick glance at the details reveals hundreds of calls to the same 1-900 number. "A mistake," you insist. After all, you'rethe only person in the house and you have never called a 900 number before. Actually, this is no mistake. In this true story, the homeowner had fallen victim to one of the oldest computer scams around: the "Auto-Dialer" virus.
How Did This Computer Security Nightmare Begin
How Did An Auto-Dialer Get Installed
Behind the scene, the auto-dialer installed itself, checked for the presence of a modem and dial tone, and then proceeded to dial an overseas 900 number over and over again. Even though the person surfed using an always-on broadband Internet connection, the modem remained so he could send and receive faxes. One problem: When he wasn't using the modem, it remained plugged into the phone jack. Why should he have unplugged it? It's not like it could hurt anything, right? Wrong.
How To Protect Yourself
1) If you no longer need a modem in your computer, remove it. Or at least disconnect the phone line from the modem;
2) Install anti-virus software such as Trend Micro or Symantec's Norton Anti-Virus. Many are designed to prevent this kind of malicious software, or "Malware." More importantly, make sure your subscription for new virus patterns is current and configured to automatically download and install updates;
3) Install and regularly run Adware protection solutions such as LavaSoft's Ad-Aware or SpyBot Search & Destroy;
4) And do not, under any circumstances, blindly hit "OK" to pop-ups or similar annoyances without first making sure what you are agreeing to.
This tale is not fiction; in fact, it happens frequently, to businesses and consumers, kids and adults. But even the least savvy among us can thwart such an attack. A neighborhood teenager recently avoided potentially thousands in fees when an auto-dialer was downloaded and installed. How? She had unplugged the modem.
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