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Fraud prevention

October 2004

The cost of using the internet is one of those stealthy expenses that creep up on you and take you by surprise, like the cost of newspapers, or shower gel – they don’t seem much at the time, but when you add them up over a year the total is rather larger than you might have guessed.  On top of that there are a few nasty little frauds around that I should warn you about.  Forewarned is forearmed, after all.

First, and most insidious, is the premium rate dialler scam.  You are tempted to go to an innocent looking web site, and asked to download some software to make viewing the website easier.  You click “OK” and in a flash a sly little widget is installed.

It waits until you computer is alone, but switched on and plugged into the telephone socket.  It then quietly dials a premium rate number (the ones that start 090) costing perhaps £1.50 per minute or more.  The first you know of it is when a horrendous telephone bill arrives; some people have been caught out for hundreds of pounds this way.  Worse, the telephone companies are not inclined to be very sympathetic.  They argue, with some justification, that is was not their fault; most will be as helpful as they can be, but ultimately they will say that your remedy lies with crooks, not with them.

ICSTIS (, who regulate premium rate calls, are taking steps to deal with them, but you can protect yourself.  First, never download software you don’t understand from a source you don’t know.  Second, get your telephone company to block premium rate calls; BT will do this for nothing (dial 150).  And for real peace of mind, unplug your computer from the telephone socket when you are not using it.

Then there is the “Trojan” email; this is an email with details of a fictitious order in your name for, say, computer parts.  It shows the amount that will supposedly be charged to your credit card.  You know nothing about this, so you click on a link to view the order in more detail.  This takes you to a malicious website that reaches into your computer and extracts secret information (passwords and so forth).

Two simple ways to deal with this: first, make sure that you have kept your Microsoft Internet software as secure as possible by clicking on “Tools…Windows Update” (this is seldom a problem for Apple Mac users); secondly, ignore and delete all emails of this nature without taking any action.  If something unexpected does appear on your credit card statement (it probably won’t), deal with it with through the credit card company. 

Finally, there is a most disagreeable swindle that trades on fear and, perhaps, guilty conscience.  You receive an email demanding a quite modest sum, say £50.  Unless you pay, they threaten to tell the police about the child pornography that they claim they have installed in your computer.  There is no pornography, of course, but the threat, and the relatively small sum demanded, has persuaded more than a few people to pay up.

Perhaps some of them already have something shameful on their computer.  However, as an Oldie reader you are of the highest moral standing, so if you receive such an email you should treat it like any other attempted crime – report it to the Police, and your ISP.

Finally, DON’T WORRY.  You are most unlikely to be subject to one of these frauds.  So think of the precautions I’ve suggested as being like wearing a seat belt; you may drive for fifty years without testing its capacity, but when you need it, you really need it.