Consumer advice: Hackers are cracking your email, people

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Consumer advocate Bill Brooks continues to recover from surgery after fracturing a bone in his leg. He’d like to let his readers know that this column is in great hands with Terri Dickerson, and he expects to be up and running in no time.

By TERRI DICKERSON

Special to The Press

We recently received a couple of disturbing calls from our readers letting us know about scary hackers who have their passwords.

The scam goes like this. Consumers receive an email from a hacker telling them that they typed in their password on one of the sites they visited, and “I intercepted it.” (There’s no mention what site the hacker is referring to.) “The security password for (your email address) is xxxxx (password) so you’ve been hacked.”

The scary thing is the password is actually correct. The hacker goes on to say that even if you change your password, they have installed malicious software that they can modify at their will. (These are not poorly written emails but we did notice some poor grammar usage typical of non-native English speakers).

The email threatens further hacking of the recipient and his contacts unless the hacker is paid a sum of money into a bitcoin wallet (link included) within 48 hours.

OUR ADVICE: DON’T click on the bitcoin link and don’t pay a ransom. If you do, who knows what malice you will unleash on your computer?

Instead, install security software on your computer, if you haven’t already done so. If your computer is infected, have it cleaned. Also make sure you avoid using public WIFI that is not secure.

Often times you will get a warning that you are about to go to an unsecure site. Whatever you do, AVOID IT!

If you have a wireless router in your home, make sure you encrypt it with a substantial password making it less vulnerable to hackers. And remember, do not use the same password for all your online activities.

If you encounter a computer situation and aren’t sure what to do, call Bill’s local computer guy, Dennis Edelbrock, at 208-660-1617.

•••

SOCIAL SECURITY EMAIL: We’ve received a few inquiries from callers asking if recent emails regarding cost of living adjustments (COLA) sent from the Social Security Administration (SSA) are legitimate. For 2019, a 2.8 percent adjustment was announced in October. The email says you can sign up to receive courtesy notifications and get your COLA notice online. It gives a sign-into-your-account button to click on.

We verified that SSA is working to communicate online better with recipients who sign up for that service. They are moving away from paper communication as more people sign up to receive either text messages or emails. The email redirects you to: https://secure.ssa.gov

This is the secure site for the SSA office. If you click on the button, make sure you’re prompted to receive a code to complete your login. If in doubt, don’t click on the link and go directly to the website.

•••

CREEPY FIREPLACE ‘REBATES’: Folks are getting rebate notices in the mail from Heat Surge, those cute Amish Electric Heaters, for $495. But the funny thing is the flow of money isn’t going to consumers, which by definition it should, because a rebate is a partial refund of an overpayment.

Most of us probably recently read in the Cd’A Press about the creepy electric fireplace with the silhouette images of bodies and hands dangling in the flames. We’re thinking those rebate notices are kind of like the hands in the flames grabbing for your wallets.

These notices aren’t new. They really amount to nothing more than a deceptive sales tactic. They specifically target customers who have purchased these electric fireplaces in the past. The pitch is kind of funny because the letter states that an internal rebate review concluded that your purchased item from (several years ago) doesn’t include the new advanced technology that is included in the 2019 All Season model.

Well (and it’s hard not to say “duh” here), since the heaters were purchased several years ago, this makes perfect sense, right? The letter states that for the low price of $791 (we did say low, right?), you can get your brand new, advanced technology, upgraded model less your $495 rebate (they really mean discount) for only $326.

From our research, there aren’t too many happy customers with these new “improved” models. And heaven forbid that you should discard the box because if you do there’s no returning it. Just ask the reader who owns the creepy fireplace.

Hey, maybe she can sell it on eBay for more than she paid for it, even without the box. Unless you’re in the market for a new electric heater, toss the “rebate” notice and keep your wallet out of the flames.

•••

If you’ve encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please give me a call. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. You can either email me at terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call me at 208-274-4458. Please include your name and a phone number or email. I’m available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups. I’m a copywriter and consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.

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