"This is completely crazy!" I shouted at my smartphone. I was on the verge of a panic attack. The man at the other end, in his classic Mumbai accent, replied, "No no sir, it is not crazy. Your computer is badly infected. Do you see all these people who are using your private information?"
He pronounced Private with a "W". Priwot.
My mouse pointer moved while my hands rested in my lap. The Command Window opened and showed an ominous list of white notations scrolling down the black background. Mumbai Man had control of my computer. I could see repeated iterations of the word "Trojan"
"See there," he said. "See, see? See how many!". I had been fighting him for at least an hour and he was losing his composure. I was stubbornly refusing to capitulate. Is this what's called Ransomware? So it seems. I couldn't get rid of the guy. I couldn't regain control of my computer until I paid five hundred dollars. Needless to say, I was upset. And I brought it upon myself by doing a stupid thing.
I had already been softened up. A week ago when I was online a demanding white pop-up window informed me that my computer had contracted a virus. In order to fix it I must call Microsoft at an 800 phone number. Riiight! And there are elephants on the moon. The pop up wouldn't go away. No restart, no Task Manager, nothing. I shut down my computer by pulling the plug. When I rebooted I got on a treadmill of Windows fix-it bubbles that went nowhere.
After a couple hours of futzing with various remedies, including a non-functioning backup program, I realized that I had to reformat my computer. That was three days of work.
Everything was fine after the reformat, my computer worked for a week. Then that same white pop up window appeared and I knew I was in trouble. I didn't want to reformat again! Like an idiot I called the phone number. Thus an ordeal began that went on for hours. Mumbai Man insisted that he represented Microsoft. He gave me an I.D. number. He gave me a phone number for...uh..Microsoft. I got another phone and punched that number. At the first ring a man with a Mumbai accent answered. "Microsoft Customer Service" he cheerfully announced.
The voice of Mumbai Man #1 created a bizarre feedback loop because as he spoke to me on MY phone, his voice sounded one desk removed on the phone that I had used to call...er...Microsoft.. I went through the motions, juggling two cell phones. I was assured by Mumbai Man #2 that Mumbai Man #1 was a legitimate Microsoft employee. His name was...uh... Sam Taylor. I wasn't buying it but I was losing my grip on reality. These guys were slick! They had an answer for everything. They talked and talked and their reasoning was insane. Slowly they dragged me into the upside-down world of internet thieves. They could demonstrate to me how badly messed up was my computer. They told me that even if I bought a new computer the same thing would happen because hackers lurked in my network. They told me that every computer I ever bought from this day forward would be infected if I didn't pay five hundred dollars.
"Sir, why are you having a broblem with this?" asked..uh.. Sam Taylor, as if this were a perfectly reasonable situation.
"A broblem?" I shrieked. "A broblem? Five hundred dollars and my computer held hostage is a broblem!. I can buy a new computer for five hundred dollars!"
"Oh, but sir, the new computer will also have the same broblem if you do not take care of this right away."
Listen, I love the accent of Indians, be they from Mumbai, Kalikot or Kerala. I love the way they sound like they have three marbles just inside their lower lip. I have adored Indian culture my entire life. However these fellows conformed to a stereotype, this was happening in the real world and in the real world most Americans expect their tech support to speak with that lilting accent. Weirdly, it added a gloss of credibility to what was blatantly incredible.
"I'm sixty two years old," I told the thief. "Does your mother know what you do for a living? That you rob old people on Social Security?"
"Oh, sir, you are a senior citizen? Let me talk to my supervisor and see what I can do about getting a discount."
Hmmm hmmm count to five. "Oh yes sir, my supervisor tells me that we can make the rebairs for three hundred forty nine dollars and ninety five cents."
I gave in. I let them install their shit on my computer. Their spyware, malware, ransomware buggy shit on my computer. I gave them my credit card number. I still don't believe I did that. Sam Taylor had turned me over to Steve Smith who worked in Billing, and Steve Smith had then given control of my computer to Richie Logan. I watched my screen as program after program was installed, operated, then uninstalled. It was spooky! I was afraid to pull the plug on the modem and shut them out. By this time I didn't know what to believe and I had the futile hope that these guys were actually fixing my computer.
My lovely spouse had a terrible virus experience once and contacted a reputable repair company who charged her a hundred dollars to remotely fix her computer. I phoned them while my computer chattered away, rolling files across the monitor screen.
"Unplug your modem right now!" This was the order from Jeffrey Everard in Austin, Texas. He works for OneSupport. They handle situations such as the mess I found myself in. I trust them. I think.
Jeffrey worked for an hour on my computer and charged me a hundred bucks.
Barclay Bank shut down my credit card and promised to mail me a new one with a new account number. Mumbai Men had yet to run the charge and they were not going to get my money. I called all my credit card vendors. I called the bank.
This was a horrible experience. Be careful. These crooks are skillful and incredibly persistent. They are glib, slick and ruthless. They are from India, Ukraine, Thailand, Poland, Belorus and the USA. They find your knowledge level with regard to computers and they know how to convince you that they're not lying. They twisted my head so badly that I couldn't locate reality after spending a couple of hours in their company. Did a little alarm go off at Microsoft Headquarters notifying them that my computer was infected? I posed this vision sarcastically and they said Yes that's exactly what happened!
I am now afraid to do any browsing on my computer. I'm afraid that any program I purchase to fight malware might be the vehicle bringing malware to my computer.
I made a mistake, a dumb mistake and it could have cost me much more. It will be a while before I can relax and use my computer normally. If ever.
My hands are still shaking.