The ramblings of a giant squid…

Internet and Computer Security For Home Users During Lockdown (well, any time really) – Part 1

Crime, Current Events, Entertainment, Friends-Romans-Countrymen, Security, Technology

Most of the world is currently locked down, stuck at home to a greater or lesser degree, and spending a LOT more time on the internet. If you’re an introvert (like me), this isn’t a huge change over normal, but if you’re more socially inclined, this may be the first time you’ve really had to sit in front of a computer for entertainment and genuinely consider what you’re doing. And with this greater audience of internet users, comes a much deeper pond for the scumbags to trawl in and look for suckers.

I’ve decided, at the urging of friends, to start a little series of informative posts to help people maintain their peace of mind and hopefully, their personal computer security during these times… and in the future, because this advice doesn’t apply just during lockdown; it applies all the time.

So what are some important things you need to know right now? Oddly enough, you should probably know these things all the time, but since you have more free time on your hands, now is a good time to learn them.

No civilized government accepts payment in gift cards or cryptocurrency.

I figured I’d start with this one because the fake tax people are out in droves right now. They’re going to call you – maybe even with a well-faked Call-ID and pretend to be your government tax man. They’re going to threaten you, and demand payment in things like iTunes gift cars, Bitcoin (aka Dunning-Krugerrand) or other crypto currency, or maybe e-transfer to some bizarre email address.

Now… you will hear Official Government Statements ™ that the tax man (be it Internal Revenue, Revenue Canada, whatever) will never call and threaten you. While a nice platitude, that is complete and utter bullshit. The real tax man will, in fact, call and aggressively threaten you – I know this because the real tax man called and aggressively threatened me. However, they’re not going to do it over a few hundred dollars. If you owe the government tens of thousands of dollars, they might, but you probably already know your tax situation so it won’t be a surprise.

What a real tax man won’t do, however is any of the following:

  • Send police to your house on the strength of a threatening phone call. If they’re going to send police to your house, they’ll just do it, they won’t call you to threaten it.
  • Call you over the phone to tell you about a warrant for your arrest. Think of it – how many people do you think get picked up by the police AFTER someone calls to warn that the police are coming.
  • Demand immediate payment in gift cards, or cryptocurrency. That should go without saying… seriously, think for 2 seconds about what the government would do with a stack of iTunes cards. While something like Bitcoin may seem more plausible, governments deal with coin of the realm, not internet quasi-frauds like cryptocurrency. Perhaps anyone reading this in Venezuela might get asked by the real government for Petros (Venezuelan cryptocurrency) but it’s a fair bet absolutely nobody else will receive a bona fide request from their government for cryptocurrency.

If you get one of these calls, what should you do?

  • If you are reasonably sure your tax account is in fair shape, hang up and block the number. If you have a macaw, like I do, put the phone in the parrot room and encourage the bird to scream for a while… then block the number when the crook hangs up.
  • If you are seriously concerned that you might owe taxes, go to the telephone directory for your location, look up the number for the tax service, and phone it directly. Don’t call the number back that called you.

In fact, no bona fide business accepts gift cards except the business that issued them. Anyone purporting to represent any organization other than Apple that is asking for iTunes gift cards is scamming you. Period.

Also: If you are in Canada, and can speak French, greet a Canada Revenue caller in French. Canada Revenue is required by law to provide service in English and French. To date, I am unaware of anyone receiving a fake tax call from a caller who could speak French. It’s not guaranteed, but odds are, crooks will hang up immediately.

Stay tuned for the next installment… Passwords.

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