Computer Phone Scams

Scammers posing as Microsoft support technicians continue to work the phones in search of victims.  These scammers will tell you that Microsoft (or another large company like McAfee) has detected an illegal download or that the computer has been flagged as infected and unless you follow their instructions to fix it, you may be charged a hefty fee. The scammer then directs their victim to a website or gets them to give access to their computer where they install what turns out to be malware or ransomware.

Another scam we see often happens when you come across an infected website where scary pop-up window appears that shows warnings like “Firewall Alert: Your Computer May Have Adware/Spyware Virus,” or “Computer Security At Risk!,” or “System crash and identity threat detected.”  There may also be a warning not to touch your computer and you will be directed to call for assistance to remove the potential virus.  These warnings might appear to be part of your operating system, but actually they are not.

These scams rely on a combination of aggressive sales tactics, lies and half-truths.  It's important to understand these scams to prevent yourself from becoming a victim.  Here are some great tips I came across online to help keep yourself safe from these scammers.

Protect and Prevent

  • Do not open attachments or click on links in emails without checking very carefully first for signs of a scam.
  • Look at email addresses closely to see if they are trying to mimic the real email addresses used by legitimate companies or organisations. If in doubt, check with the company or organisation directly using contact details you find yourself.
  • Be wary of unsolicited approaches which direct you to download software.
  • Microsoft will not call you about fixing your computer issues.
  • Never give remote access to your computer to anyone you don’t know.
  • Always keep your computer security up to date with anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a good firewall. Only buy computer and anti-virus software from a reputable source.
  • Use your security software to run a virus check if you think your computer’s security has been compromised. If you still have doubts, contact your anti-virus software provider or a computer specialist.
  • Keep your office networks, computers, and mobile devices secure. Update your security software, change passwords and back up your data regularly. Store your backups offsite and offline.

If you fell for a scam like these, you should at least do the following:

Call Your Financial Institution and Tell Them What Happened

Chances are, if you bank with a larger well-known bank, they will already have experience with this type of scam and will tell you exactly what they can do in terms of putting a security alert on your account, dealing with fraudulent charges, etc.  DO NOT WAIT TO CALL YOUR BANK, tell them as soon as possible.  If you wait too long then they might not be able to help you with the bogus charges.  They will likely put a fraud alert on your accounts and issue you a new card. If they don't offer to do this, INSIST on it.

Isolate and Quarantine Your Computer

Unplug the affected computer's network cord and turn off its wireless connection.  If you installed the remote admin tool as they directed, then they could be rooting around on your computer accessing your personal files, even after the phone call is over.  They could also install keylogging malware to record your passwords as you access your bank and other accounts.  Certainly consider taking your computer to a reputable local computer repair technician as well!

Monitor ALL of Your Accounts

You may want to consider signing up with a credit monitoring / identity theft protection service so that you can be alerted if, and when, scammers try to use your personal or financial information again.

Alert and Educate Your Friends and Family About These Scams

Even though this scam is affecting millions of people, there are surprisingly a lot of people who haven't heard about it and are still falling victim to it.  Spread the word and share this and related articles with your friends and family.  Educating people is the key to stopping this type of scam.

Change Your Passwords

After you ensure that your system is free of malware and keylogging software, change all your important passwords.  Make sure to choose strong passwords when creating new ones.