A few weeks ago I was doing dishes, when all of a sudden my computer made a weird noise. I came over and saw that a message had popped up: my computer had been blocked, it had a virus, my credit card and banking info was at risk, and I needed to call technical support right away.
The message didn’t look quite right, but my fear of losing control of my finances quickly wiped over that worry. I called the number. The woman who answered the phone sounded like many technical support people I have dealt with: world-weary and slightly aggravated that she had to deal with my stupidity. She also, like other technical support people, said she needed to access my computer remotely. I agreed.
She saw the message, and poked around a bit, and said the virus had to be fixed immediately. I would need to pay $129.99. And could I just enter my credit card number into the message box?
At this point, my spidey senses were tingling out of control. “Thanks-for-your-help-I’ve-got-to-go-bye!” I said, and hung up the phone. I got on a different computer, did a little googling, and confirmed that this was a scam. At first I was very proud of myself for not turning over my credit card info. And then I realized that I had let these people on my computer. And I felt so embarrassed.
I am not the kind of person who should fall prey to internet scams. I am a millennial. I am not the stereotypical little old lady. And even if I were, my grandparents are savvy people. My grandfather, for fun, scam-baited Nigerian princes in his retirement. He considered it his community service. That made me feel worse: I am the granddaughter of a recreational scam-baiter, and here I had just fallen prey to one of stupidest scams around.
I didn’t even feel that angry at the scammers--I was angrier at myself that I had proven such an easy target. And I realized that was completely backwards. It is normal to be afraid when you are told that someone might have access to all of your financial information. There is nothing shameful about feeling that fear and jumping at the first solution someone offers you. What is shameful is people purposefully inciting that fear and then taking advantage of it.
This problem--feeling angry at ourselves and embarrassed instead of being angry at the people who have done truly shameful things--is much older than internet scams, and applies to so many situations. When we encounter this false shame, we need to encourage each other to not get caught up in it, and remember who truly deserves to feel ashamed about the situation.
As for dealing with my own embarrassment: I told my husband when he got home from work, and he was very understanding. He said, “Oh yeah, those technical support scams are getting more and more realistic-looking,” and that made me feel a little better. I ran a bunch of scans on my computer and changed all my passwords and I’m monitoring my financial stuff and everything seems ok, at least for now.
And I’m cutting myself some slack. Am I still a little embarrassed? Sure. I’m also feeling more wary. No matter how wary I get, though, I can’t guarantee that I will never be scammed. I can decide to not beat myself up for having a normal emotional response to bad news, or for being a trusting person. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.