When writing, I go to my office and close the door. When seriously writing, I put a do not disturb sign on the door handle. When I am on a get-5,000-words-done-or-else deadline, I do both, and add in a firm warning to my husband Gary to forget I exist until I exit my office.
You see, Gary, unlike me, is not a procrastinator. He is a man of action–for him, to think is to do. He is also equal parts persistent and persuasive. So, unless I’ve steeled myself against the unstoppable force that is Gary, I can find myself typing away at my computer one minute, and the next I’m in the backyard helping to move a pile of stones.
On a recent day when I was struggling with a plot point and really, really needed uninterrupted writing time, Gary had plans to do some internet research. You might think that was a happy coinciding of activities. I would be busy, and he would be busy, and neither would interrupt the other. However, Gary is to computers as I am to arts and crafts. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. And when something goes wrong, he wants it fixed. Now.
Knowing this, I suggested he wait until I had finished writing for the day, and then I would be at his disposal. Soon, I was immersed in my plot, writing my lead character out of a tricky situation. After a while, I dimly heard sounds of frustration coming from downstairs, but I kept on working. Then I heard footsteps coming toward my office, and Gary speaking loudly into his phone, “I tried that. It won’t work. The warning won’t go away. The screen is stuck!”
I opened the door. He handed me the phone, saying, “It’s Apple Support. This guy keeps telling me to click something, but I can’t find it. There’s a warning on the screen. I didn’t do anything. He needs to talk to you.”
I took the phone, but having just been wrenched from a cemetery in Himmel, Wisconsin, I needed a minute to reorient to the real world of computer problems. But the man on the other end of the phone plunged right into instructions to click here, enter this, check that. It wasn’t until he said, “So now, I take control of your computer,” that my writing-induced brain fog lifted.
“Wait a minute, tell me again what the problem is.”
“Your system is operating illegally. You did not pay the renewal fee for firewall protection. I will need to fix your computer and …”
That sounded very like a scam. When I pressed him further, he hung up. Then I did some research and discovered it is indeed a scam, and a fairly common one. You can fall into it if you inadvertently click a phony link on a search results page. A message will pop up on your screen that says something like “Apple Support Alert,” in alarmingly large and bold letters. The message warns of dire things that will happen if you don’t call the fake support number immediately.
If you try to close the window to clear your screen, you can’t. The screen is locked. So, lots of people, Gary included, call the number, and that’s when the scammer on the end of the line says he can help, but he needs your credit card number to pay for the repairs. If he gains access to your machine, he may also drop malware into your system that can harvest other personal data. I had our favorite IT expert (who makes house calls!) check out Gary’s computer just to be safe, but it was clean, and we hadn’t given out any credit card information.
If you run into the scam (and it’s all over the internet) never call the support number, just force quit your machine, and you should be fine. This public service announcement is brought to you by Gary and Susan, who have each learned an important lesson.
Gary now knows how to recognize a scam and force quit his computer. Susan now knows to take Gary’s laptop and put it in her file drawer while she’s working.