By Terry Rogers
Scam artists around the world defraud people of millions each year through internet scams. In some cases, the fraud involves phone calls or emails from what appear to be officials from a major software firm, like Microsoft. According to Bryan Eshelman and Pat Coulter at Response Computer Group, there are things you can do to protect yourself from becoming the victim of an internet scam.
“Unless your PC is covered under a maintenance plan, a cold call claiming something is wrong with your computer is a scam, period,” Mr. Eshelman said. “Microsoft does not call anyone and offer to fix PC issues. In one of the scams, a cold caller asks you to look at the event viewer on the PC. The caller claims that error and warning messages in the PC logs, something that is present on every Windows PC on the planet, are signs of malware. They send you to a remote control site, connect to the PC and then ask for a credit card to sell you services and software you do not need. If you decline to provide a card number after allowing them to connect, they may start to delete personal information.
Mr. Coulter said that ransomware is even more dangerous as it could cause computer users to lose any files that have not been backed up. This scam is usually caused by opening an infected email attachment disguised as a fake invoice or package delivery message, or opening a website with a malicious ad or script running.
“Once it is installed, it scans your PC for personal data, encrypts files and creates text and HTML files instructing the user to pay a ransom in bitcoins for a decryption key,” Mr. Coulter said. “Files are usually not recoverable without a good backup.”
Mr. Eshelman recommends that anyone who receives an unexpected call from a someone claiming to be from a company they have not recently contacted for support, simply say “no” and hang up. It is also important to confirm that, when calling support, that the number used is actually the number of the company you wish to speak to.
“We have had people search for company numbers online and end up calling a number that is not associated with the real company,” Mr. Eshelman said. “The first links in any search result are often paid ads and should look different than the real search results.”
Mr. Eshelman and Mr. Coulter both say that, although these are some of the most common scams they see, the list of how criminals use the internet to scam consumers is endless. They caution anyone using the internet to be cautious and to remember that if something doesn’t feel right, it probably is not. One tip they suggest is to avoid clicking links in emails, especially those that claim to be account problems with your bank or other sites. Instead of clicking on the link in the email, open your browser, type the actual URL to your bank and login to check your account.
“Do not call phone number or click on popups from websites claiming your PC is infected,” Mr. Coulter said. “Your computer does not self-diagnose problems and then randomly find a phone number for you to call to repair it. The only legitimate infection messages will come from your local antivirus software. Make sure you know what product you are running and what an infection warning from that product looks like.”
For issues with browser pop ups claiming infections, removing the problem is sometimes as simple as scanning the PC using a free online scanner, such as one found on eset.com. Malwarebytes Anti-malware, which is free to home users, is another product that can successfully remove malware from a PC. However, there are scams that require advanced level skills to remove. Mr. Coulter said that they have helped customers who have attempted to do a system restore to eliminate the problem and have lost files or programs after choosing the wrong option in Windows 8 or higher.
“The bottom line is to never let someone remotely access your PC unless it is someone you know,” Mr. Coulter said. “If you are initiating a call for support to any company, be careful and verify who you are calling.”
If you have been the victim of an internet scam or want to be sure your computer is free of malware, Response Computer Group has a cleanup and tune-up service for your PC or laptop for a flat rate of $99. For more detailed information, contact them at 302-725-3314.
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