Bits & P.C.s: Being ‘Net-aware’—part two

In the last column, we were discussing “pop-ups,” I hadn’t much more than finished the column when I received a phone call.

It seems that the caller was having a problem with his computer, that it had just started acting “strange.” He told me that he had been selling items on ebay for quite some time, but just the previous night he had decided to set up a PayPal account.

For those of you who do not know what eBay or PayPal is, I’ll briefly explain. Ebay is a Web site who is like a huge rummage/auction sale. People all over the world will list items for sale; some items will have a set price while others will be sold through an on line auction. The auction will run for a certain number of days, and then the person with the highest bid will make payment arrangements with the seller.

This is where PayPal comes in. PayPal is an online banking service that acts as a go-between for the buyer and seller. The buyer places money into his PayPal account that is used to pay for his ebay or other Internet purchases. It can be set up to work with your existing bank accounts, or you can transfer money in and out of your bank account to your PayPal account.

Now back to the story. It appears that when the caller was in the process of setting up his PayPal account, he received a pop-up asking him to enter in his login and password for the account. Just as I described in the last column, he was on the PayPal site, but the pop-up was not from PayPal.

When I examined the computer and ran a virus scanner along with Spybot Search & Destroy, it found a couple dozen viruses and Trojans on the computer. The Trojans included a couple of “back doors,” or programs that send information to a hacker.

After removing the evil, I advised the caller to be certain to change any passwords before he did any Internet activity. He called me again the next day. When he arrived home, he had a message on his answering machine from his bank. Someone had accessed his PayPal account and had made purchases that had overdrawn his bank account by more than $500.

The moral of the story is the same one that I have been preaching for a long time. Install a virus checker and keep it updated at least three times a week. Install a firewall program or a hardware firewall to keep hackers from gaining access while you are on the Internet, and yes, e-mail is part of the Internet.

Do not disclose private or sensitive information unless you are certain you are giving it to the actual site. Test the site; if you enter in the wrong user name or password, the real site should tell you of the error and give you the chance to re-enter the answers. A hijacked or fake site will accept your login and password because it doesn’t know the correct ones.

Richard Heller is an independent computer specialist who specializes in repairs, installation, upgrades, technical support, Internet sharing, data recovery and diagnostics. If you have any computer or service-related questions, please send them to The Rock River Times, e-mail, or call 243-1162.

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