Earlier this week I received a phone call from one of my elderly clients (he’s 80 years young) who also happens to be one of my best friends. He tells me that his computer will not boot. I’m not particularly busy so I pop over to his house right away.
Sure enough, his operating system is refusing to boot, looping round in never ending circles but never getting anywhere. Long story short, I take the hard drive home and connect it to my test machine running Windows 7 but no matter what I do, I am unable to access the hard drive in any way – just a whole lot of errors and “access denied” messages. Goodness knows how he has managed to get it in this state, I’ve never seen anything like it.
It soon becomes apparent that the only viable solution is a fresh install but my friend then informs me that he has lost his installation media. That’s not a problem on its own but, unfortunately, the product key was on a label affixed to the box the disc came in and that’s gone as well. So, I advise him to take the machine back to the computer shop where he bought it from in the hope that they may have his product key on record.
Late afternoon the following day and my friend rings to tell me that he has his computer back with Windows 7 re-installed and up and running… all good. Then, just two hours later, he rings again and informs me that he is on the phone with an ‘Avast’ rep who is telling him that his PC is being constantly bombarded by trojans and if he pays $480.00 they will fix it for him.
I can hear his wife in the background talking with the so-called Avast rep on the other phone, which they must have had on speaker. This person, whoever it might be and speaking with a distinctly “offshore” accent, is aggressive and insistent. A horrible thought then enters my head, I ask my friend…”you didn’t allow them remote access did you?” When he replies in the affirmative I tell him, with some urgency, to shut down the computer and switch off the router immediately.
I pop round to my friend’s house the following morning and scan the machine with a couple of reputable malware detection and removal tools – thankfully, all clear. They were lucky they called me right away, I’m guessing we terminated the remote session early on in the piece.
There are three important lessons to be learned from my friend’s experience:
1) Backup Personal Files
Undoubtedly, the worst aspect of all this was that my friends had failed to heed my constant advice to backup and subsequently lost all their personal files. Computers are machines, machines break. Backing up personal files is not a luxury, it is an absolute necessity!
2) Allowing Remote Access
We should always be extremely cautious about who we allow to remotely access our system, and never, under any circumstances, allow remote access to anyone who initiates the contact.
3) The Elderly are Particularly Vulnerable
My friend and his wife are by no means stupid or particularly gullible, it’s just that they come from a different era, when front doors were almost always unlocked and folk left their keys in the car. This is true of many of our elderly folk, because they are more trusting they also tend to be more vulnerable. Education is key to helping safeguard our elderly from the scammers.
If you have elderly folk in your lives, which I’m assuming most would, take some time to educate them on the dangers of being overly trusting with their computer and important data. Let them know that you are there for them. We can learn a lot from their years of experience and wisdom but, when it comes to computers and technology, the roles are often reversed and the younger ones must become the educators.
**My references to the elderly are generalizations and I mean no disrespect. I realize there are elderly folk out there who are computer and technology savvy – I am nearing 70 years old myself.