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Installing your bullcrap detector

I didn't think I'd be returning to this issue so soon, but it's a problem that appears to be increasing and not abating. There's some new tactics from scammers, some of which rely on hacking and some on blind luck. Last year, a young nz woman got a call from her husband's phone number, telling her he was in custody at an airport and she needed to pay a very large fine to get him out - which she did. How could she have known that the scammers had tricked the phone network into making it look like the call was from his phone? That her husband was fine, or that the whole thing was a setup?

Well, for starters, she could have called the airport directly to verify. She also could've asked them to put him on the phone, or for a piece of information which only he could verify. Nowadays we have scammers targeting us over phone, email, on social media and dating websites. Some scams are dumb, some scams are smart, and some are targeted towards specific individuals (also known as "spear-phishing"). Amidst all of this it would be easy to just throw up your hands and say "it's all too much, how can I ever be safe, etcetera, etcetera", retreat from the modern world and become a hermit, shut away in a cave until the nuclear apocalypse arrives.

Look. The world's always been this way. There've always been pirates, con artists and scumbags, it's just that now, the pirates are in Somalia, the con artists are in India (and sometimes Russia and China) and the scumbags are in the Whitehouse. But they're not robbing you in the street, and you are not defenceless. The best deterrent for any scam is a well-installed, fully-functional bullcrap-ometer. When someone calls you with a foreign accent and says there's something wrong with your computer, you should be asking "how did they find out?" and "would it be legal for them to find out that way?" and "would a legitimate company act that way?".

Likewise if someone emails saying that you've inherited a million dollars, logically-speaking, the odds of that being true are a million to one, so your bullcrap-ometer should be beeping rapidly. If something seems too good, too bad, or too implausible to be true, it probably Isn't True. Develop your critical faculties: your ability to critique situations instead of simply reacting. Look at what I'm writing here and critique: ask yourself, what does Matt have to gain by telling you all this stuff? Well, for starters hopefully I gain your trust, which may well give me business, but also makes me feel good about helping others.

Were I trying to scam you, I would tell you that there's some specific procedure or software package which will solve all your problems and make you entirely safe, which I can provide. There isn't such a thing, though there are plenty of things that help mitigate threats like antivirus programs, not sharing contact details on social media and not re-using passwords between websites. But the real solution is to use your head; educate yourself on the types of scams out there, install your bullcrap-ometer, and don't get caught out. Get smart instead.

- Matt Bentley, computer expert at Bentley Home PC Support.
Email info@homepcsupport.co.nz or phone 0211348576.

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