There is a limit now

I learned an important lesson today.

About a week ago, a person I know asked me where they could get antivirus protection for free on their computer. Due to budget constraints, they weren’t willing to buy any of the common antivirus products.

Being the type of person I am (always trying to help those with computer issues), I offered to help by recommending they download a free copy of AVG. I wrote down some simple instructions on how to get AVG and gave it to this person.

A few days ago, this person came back to me showing a rather shady looking receipt for a $49 purchase of AVG but they didn’t receive any software and were getting worried. The URL printed on the receipt definitely didn’t look like anything legit as well.

First thing I thought (and secretly hoped was the case) was this person somehow purchased a commercial version of AVG. Looking around their web site, I found a $52.95 collection of software, but nothing that was $49. This person was very firm that they went to the web site I wrote down, yet I couldn’t find what they purchased.

I did some more looking around and it grew more apparent to me that this person must have had spyware or a virus on her computer that redirected any attempt to reach known security software web sites to scam sites.

We e-mailed AVG with the “order number” to find out if it was a legit order number. It wasn’t.

Unfortunately, this person didn’t have enough computer knowledge to recognize the warning signs and fell for what appears to be a scam. Even though I told her originally it was free software, this person still got tricked into inputting their credit card information and purchasing something that turned out to be nothing. This person is now working with their bank/credit card company to see if this charge can be removed and is canceling the card.

I should have seen some of the warning signs myself. This person had a dial-up internet connection, so who knows when the last time it had any Windows updates (if ever). I remember at my previous job, it was quite common to come across dial-up users who still didn’t have Windows XP SP2 (or worse, had Windows 98 or ME!). Not to mention, if there was an old version of antivirus software, it would be way out of date since nearly every home user in existence clicks away the expiration dialog without second thoughts. A prime sitting duck for spyware/spam.

I feel absolutely horrible (this person is very kind to me, even though I kept apologizing for the trouble they were in).

I decided today I have a few rules when it comes to computers now and people asking me personally for help:

  • I must know the person very well and how solid their general computing knowledge is.
  • The only time I will ever recommend security software, unless I am certain that person knows what they are doing, is if I personally install it on their computer. That way I can ensure their computer is clean of spyware/viruses and is properly secured.
  • I have officially retired from helping people who use dial-up internet. The odds of their system being up-to-date in patches, antivirus, and be clean of virus/spyware are next to nill. In many cases, installing security software after the fact can cause even more issues (I have seen viruses actively stop antivirus installations halfway through for example, leaving some rather ugly errors in its wake). These days many phone companies offer very basic broadband services roughly ~$19 a month and supporting/protecting a computer on these connections is so much easier. If they don’t want to spend a little extra money to ensure their computing experience is safe, I don’t want the stress of cleaning up the mess afterwards.
  • When people ask what will be a good home computer, I am recommending Macs for now on. Simple as that. Windows has too many security issues for the average home user to deal with.

It is a cruel reality, but I have learned today that I must accept it.