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Fake funeral notice can be deadly — for your computer

February 12, 2014


Colleen Tressler

Consumer Education Specialist

Scam artists are forever trying to trick people into clicking on links that will download malware to their computers. But the latest scam takes the tricks to a new low. Scammers are sending bogus emails with the subject line "funeral notification." The message appears to be from a legitimate funeral home, offers condolences, and invites you to click on a link for more information about the upcoming "celebration of your friend’s life service." But instead of sending you to the funeral home's website, the link sends you to a foreign domain where the scammers download malware to your computer.

Malware, short for “malicious software," includes viruses and spyware that get installed on your computer without your consent. These programs can cause your device to crash and can be used to monitor and control your online activity. Criminals use malware to steal personal information, send spam, and commit fraud.

If you get an email about a friend or loved one’s passing, the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, says hit Delete. Don’t click on the link. You may then want to contact the funeral home or family directly to verify the information.

To reduce your risk of downloading unwanted malware and spyware:

  • Keep your security software updated.
  • Don't click on any links or open any attachments in emails unless you know who sent it and what it is.
  • Download and install software only from websites you know and trust.
  • Make sure your browser security setting is high enough to detect unauthorized downloads.
  • Use a pop-up blocker and don't click on any links within pop-ups.
  • Resist buying software in response to unexpected pop-up messages or emails, especially ads that claim to have scanned your computer and detected malware. That's a tactic scammers use to spread malware.
  • Back up your data regularly.


Computer Safety

How to set up a child's first PC

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

Sandy is planning to give her grandson his first computer. She asked for advice on making sure that an adult maintains control.

We live in a digital society, and our children need to become part of it. These days, it’s almost impossible to do homework without a word processor and an Internet connection.

On the other hand, it’s a dangerous Internet out there. Immature minds can easily find pornography, hate speech, and massively destructive forms of bullying. And scammers can find those immature minds.

At some point, you need to give your child a computer. But you have to be careful. And I'm speaking as a techie who has raised three children to adulthood.

This advice also applies to smartphones and tablets.

Wait until your child is in their early teens. In my family, the first PC comes at age 13, as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah gift. But even then, an adult has to hold the reins.

First of all, a teenager should not have an administrator account. That should belong to an adult living in the same home. And that account’s password should be one that the kid won’t guess.

Why? With an administrator account, the teenager could turn off child-protection software. They could also turn off, say, the antivirus program because it annoys them (yes, I’ve seen that happen), or install a Trojan waiting to hurt them.

You need rules. Put limits on what kinds of sites your teen can visit, and under what conditions he or she can use social media (for instance, they must accept you as a friend).

Set rules about when they can use the PC, and for how many hours. Your teen also needs to sleep, eat, and engage in physical activity.

Don’t be sneaky. Tell your teen what the rules are and how you’re monitoring them. If your teen asks why, give them a reasonable, truthful answer—or at least give that a try before you resort to “because I told you!”

Microsoft offers an excellent child-protection tool, Family Safety, at no additional price. Here's how to set it up.

If the teen’s computer runs Windows 7, you’ll have to download Family Safety as part of the Windows Essentials collection of free programs. From the site, you download a tiny program that lets you select, download, and install the “Essential” applications you want.

Lincoln Spector

You don’t need to download anything in Windows 8.1, but that doesn't mean the process is any easier. From the Search charm, type accounts, then select Add, delete, and manage other user accounts. Once there, you can either create a new Child account or, if the account already exists, click Edit and change it to a Child account.

Whichever version of Windows you're using, you can set up and define your child’s protection from the Family Safety web page. From there you can set up time limits, set a level for restricting web sites, and choose other options.

Lincoln Spector

As time goes on, loosen the reins a bit. Give them a gradual transition to the far greater freedom they'll have in college.

You can find other solutions, of course. Marco Chiappetta offers tips for child-friendly Linux computing. Also see Eric Geier's How to child-proof the Internet.

That’s about as far as I can take you. The rest is up to you and your child.