Stranger Danger – Part One: Parental Controls

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Stranger Danger – Part One: Parental Controls

Stranger Danger Part One - Parental Controls on the Internet

Uff. I’ve been putting off blogging and podcasting for awhile now… Okay... about six months. It started with the holidays and a cyber attack on my parent’s computer, and then... well… this COVID-19 situation.

The weeks and months have gone by, and now here it is almost Memorial Day. I’m dragging my fingers to get to typing again. Have you felt that way too? It’s been a great (yes I use the word loosely) opportunity for education, knowledge enhancement… and jigsaw puzzles. Boy are they addicting!

So I’m going to get back at it and get back to the business of marketing. I think at some point, especially at times like these, we need to cut ourselves a little slack. The problem is that “slack” turns into half a year. Ugh.

So here’s what I wanted to write about back in December 2019…

The Nightmare Before Christmas

I answered a call from my dad, and you know that panicky sound where you know something is wrong? Yep...that voice. Once I knew no one was in the hospital, I got on with finding out what was going on. Thankfully it wasn’t a trip to the hospital, but it wasn’t good either.

It seems that my dad had one of those Microsoft type messages that said that there was an error on the computer. He’d been having trouble for some time with his computer and this seemed to be the culmination of his Windows headaches. He followed the message and called the number on the screen. Yes...That happened.  The nice man on the other end of the line said he could help. He would just need access to the computer via a screen share for about 24 hours. Down the rabbit hole we go. He was granted access to go through and “fix” things.

Dad explained to me what all had happened and what was currently going on to fix the issue with the computer. I essentially told him to unplug the computer and the internet. “Told” probably is an understatement. It was just short of panicked screaming.  I tried to explain that the "issue" with the computer was in fact the hacker who had already found a way in and placed the warning message there.  He didn't magically appear in his time of need.  He created the problem in the first place.

Meanwhile my gut was telling me that I need to get their financial accounts secured ASAP.  As a precaution I frantically logged into their checking account to change the password. Next was a call to the investment company to put a lock on that account. More panic… if the nice man/hacker got into this account, their life savings could be gone. Zip, zilch, zero.  Could you imagine? Everything your parents spent their lives working for gone in a flash because of a simple mistake on the computer. (Note: I've come to find out that it is extremely difficult to get money out of their investment account.  Make sure yours is that way too.)  

Finances locked up, I was back on the phone with my parents to determine what actually had happened and what to do next. My mom took the computer to her tech guy for a thorough going through. Dad and I went over what had transpired and what our next steps were.

Don't Believe Everyone is Out to Help You - They're Not

What I found out in this second call with my dad is that in the process of fixing things on the computer, the “nice man” asked him to log into his bank accounts to ensure that no fraudulent transactions had taken place. He assured my dad that he couldn’t see the accounts and that dad would have to make the verification that all was in tact. I was thankful that I had I followed my gut in my panic and contacted their financial institutions. I also breathed a sigh of relief that my dad sensed that something was wrong in the first place and called me right away.

My parents went down to their local bank branch and closed their checking account. We closed the credit cards accounts. New everything. A week before Christmas.  (I now refer to this as the Nightmare before Christmas.)

The hackers did log into their checking account before I was able to get the password changed.  They created a bill payment to themselves in the amount of $1500. Here’s another fun diversion to the story… I called the bank several times to notify them that this was fraud and to ensure that this $1500 payment wouldn’t process. Well guess what, it did. On Christmas Day. Another battle to be had to get that money back. Fortunately we did, but I’m sure Mr. Hacker got to keep what he took.

The Takeaway From All of This

The silver lining of all of this mayhem is that I now know every account, every log in, every bill payment schedule that my parents have. I can help monitor accounts and watch for suspicious activity with them.

The computer, however, remains a challenge. There will forever be people out there trying to get into your house, your car, your computer, and anything else they feel there’s an opportunity to take from you.
It seems a little odd to have the tables turned with parents. Now I’m reminding them about “stranger danger”. But many of our parents come from a time where cyber-threats weren’t a thing, where people offering their help were genuinely sincere in their gesture.  It's not easy to change a life-long mindset but we need to do what we can in order to protect our family.

So my message here (which I intended to write six months ago) is this: Parental controls don’t just apply to our children. They are just as important with our parents. Help your parents to understand the online dangers that lurk out there. Keep tabs on what they’re doing online if you can. Ask questions and be alert. Be sure that their devices have strong security measures in place. Warn them about the dangers of free wifi, too. Be knowledgeable and proactive about their finances, if appropriate, so that if an emergency strikes, you’re prepared to act quickly to mitigate damage.  We were lucky.  I know there are many folks out there who haven't been as lucky. 

Stranger Danger is a reality, no matter how old you are.

To learn more about protecting yourself and your website on the internet, drop me a line.  I'd love to chat with you.  Also, please check out the @WestCoastCyberChick podcast and follow me on social!


Laura Nowak Brown
aka The West Coast Cyber Chick



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