Our kids have always known to be careful on the Internet. I'm not so much concerned with what they'll see, because they can handle that, but with what might worm it's way into my operating system. They know not to download anything without asking me first, not to click on links in spam, to uncheck all the little boxes that say "I'd like nothing more than to receive many messages about all of the fabulous products offered by you and your nine gazillion partners," or fill out forms asking for personal information just because they're asked to before they can play online solitaire.
Yesterday Chloe sent me an e-mail message saying that a relative sent her an invitation for free text messaging on her cell phone. If you get anything from www.sms.ac, run. If you get e-mail from someone inviting you to join a free text-messaging service, delete it. That she and her cell phone are on different continents separated by a fairly substantial body of water until July apparently wasn't a deterrent to signing up for the service. She read everything carefully and couldn't see a downside. After all, Gmail is free from Google, and it's a fantastic product, so sometimes free is almost free.
I checked her phone and there was a text message from the company, telling her to log on to their Web site and enter the activation code they'd just sent. This, of course, means they have her cell phone number. So, before jumping down Chloe's throat, I did a little Googling on the company name to make sure that I was, in fact, right and that it was too good to be true. The first hit informed me that it was a major scam. Sending messages is free, but any message you receive through them costs $1 each. And they - wait for it - send you a message at least every day. Buried in the fine print is this: You may receive messages from SMS.ac or other users at any time. Also, any free message you send costs the receiver 50 cents. To opt out costs money because you have to do it from your phone, and they don't always honor your request. The charges are added to your cell phone bill. If you've seen incredibly annoying commercials on TV for cell phone ringtones and games for really cheap, look at the fine print on the bottom of the screen: for example, downloading one ringtone means you agree to a contract of $1.99 a week, to be added to your regular cell phone bill.
I was less than pleased, and even less pleased with the 35-year-old relative who sent a 16 year old a telephone scam and should damn well know better. How could Chloe fall for this? Probably because she's not under my constant supervision and therefore somewhat removed from my innate cynicism. Which, in most cases, is a good thing to be removed from. And because a relative who is no stranger to technology sent it to her (but, did I mention, should have damn well known better). And because people don't realize that their cell phones are computers that can get viruses and be hacked. And because these schemes are relatively new.
I called Verizon to see if there was anything they could do. They hadn't heard about it, but she said the best thing would be to change the phone number. All of our phones had the same prefix, and the kids' phone numbers were only one digit different. Not a big deal, but much easier to remember. Now Chloe's is a completely different number. Chloe feels bad but now she can warn other people her age and it will carry more weight with them because it won't be coming from a cynical parent. I'm still less than pleased with the relative, though.