For Consumer

Spyware Victim Scenario

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Susan lives in a suburb of Atlanta. She’s a busy mother of three, and works outside the home three days a week at the local school. Her husband, Darren, is a CPA for a trucking company.

Susan and her family share one computer that is located in the family room. Her youngest, six-year-old Dana, uses educational software. Michael is 10, likes to chat online with his friends, and loves computer games—especially Sim City. Josh is the oldest, and, at 15, he is the most computer-savvy. He researches papers for school, instant messages with his friends, plays multi-user games, and does a lot of web surfing.

Susan and Darren use the computer for online banking, bill paying, shopping, and emailing. The family takes a lot of digital photos and sends them to friends and family.

In Susan’s words, “Everything was fine. It was the first of the month and I sat down to pay my bills online. First, I checked my Visa bill online. There were dozens of credit-card charges we couldn’t explain.”

Susan next checked the balance in her checking account. Less than $20 was available. A withdrawal of more than $3,000 had been made in the last 24 hours. She was nearly wiped out—and her mortgage payment was due in just a few days.

She called the bank in a panic. They couldn’t help. After calling a PC technical support company, Susan and her family found out what had happened: Josh had surfed to a web site that secretly downloaded spyware onto their PC. From that point on, all activities on the computer, including emails sent and received, the web sites each family member visited, and passwords and login names that had been entered were intercepted, collected, and sent to the owner of the spyware.

In 24 hours’ time, Susan and her family racked up thousands of unexplained charges and the money in their bank account had been siphoned nearly dry.

According to Consumer Reports Magazine’s “State of the Net” report, in the last six months, spyware infections prompted nearly a million U.S. households to replace their computers and one in eight U.S. Internet users have had a major, often costly spyware problem.

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