Defensive Computing: Avoid Scams

Computer related scams usually start in one of two ways. The first is a random phone call from someone who claims to be from Microsoft. The caller claims he has information indicating your computer is infected and must be serviced immediately. He recommends that you permit him to check something on your computer and before you know it, the caller is logged on to your computer remotely with full control and access to all your information.

These types of calls are dubious at best. The fees charged are often exorbitant and usually no real service is provided. In some cases, the caller may be looking to steal your personal data or leave behind hidden software that uses your computer to send spam email. Keep in mind that Microsoft will never call you to fix viruses and malware on your computer. If you receive an unsolicited call from someone who claims to be from Microsoft, Google, or a security company offering to fix your computer, the best thing to do is hang up immediately.

The second type of scam we see frequently begins on the computer itself. A message takes over the screen saying that the machine is infected and that shutting down the computer will cause data loss. It instructs the user to call a phone number. This scam hopes to scare the user into making a knee-jerk and costly decision. Once the user has called the phone number, the scam works just like the one described above.

Generally it is best to ignore these types of messages and to shut down the machine. Just as we don’t invite perfect strangers into our homes, we should not allow an unknown third party to access our computers. Consider all the personal and financial data our computers store and whether you are comfortable with someone you’ve never met accessing your information. If you have questions about your computer, want to have it checked, or believe that it needs service, it’s best to rely on your own skill or to have someone you trust work on the machine for you.