I come from a very large family, the youngest of 8. When we are not together for the holidays, I enjoy calling my family members to wish them well. This Thanksgiving, when I called one of my sisters, I quickly realized that this holiday tradition may have just saved her one of the many online scams found on the internet today. Though my sister is one of the nicest people you could ever meet, she is not what I would call a “computer person”. She has a computer only because she “has to” to get emails from other family members, church friends and to be able to create Microsoft Word documents for her personal use. If it were not for that, I don’t think she would have a computer at all.
When she answered that morning, she mentioned that she was on the other line with “Microsoft technical support”. She went on to tell me that when she logged on check her email that morning, she had a pop-up message on her screen indicating that she had a computer virus. To get rid of the computer virus, the pop-up message instructed her to call technical support for assistance.
Worried that the computer virus message was legitimate and that she was at risk she called “Microsoft technical support”. The “technician” on the other end of the phone explained that he could take care of that computer virus for her for a small fee of $289; all he had to do was login to her computer to begin the virus removal process. She followed his instructions and had just given him remote access to her computer as I called in.
I asked her to turn off the computer immediately by holding down the power key until it shut down, then had her unplug it from the wall so no kids or grand kids could turn it back on before one of our help-desk technicians could truly resolve the issue. Thankfully, I was able to stop it before any personal information was stolen and before she paid any fees to these online scam artists.
She did, in fact, have a virus which made that pop-up appear to begin with but the technical support team she had called was completely bogus. They were looking to login to her computer and steal personal information, online banking information and anything else they could get their hands on. Then, they would have asked her for a credit/debit card number to charge her for the virus removal. In reality, they would have taken everything they could. It was a very close call and I am glad that they were not able to complete what they set out to do that day.
During the holiday season, we see an uptick in these online scams and always try to warn people about how they operate. Here is the advice I gave to my sister and that I give to you:
- Call a Trusted, Local IT Provider for Technical Support
It is important to know who you are dealing with when it comes to IT support. Computers today contain a great deal of personal information and should be treated that way. If you think you may have a computer virus, call us – we can help and we can keep your sensitive information safe.
- Hang Up if Microsoft Technical Support Calls You
Another of the online scams we see is the Microsoft Phone Call Scam, in which someone claiming to be from Microsoft calls you and wants access to your computer. Microsoft will NEVER contact you in this manner.
- Be Careful When Installing Software
Avoid Installing Adware Extensions when installing free software for video recording/streaming, download-managers or PDF creators. Often times, malicious software is added when you install something else, so watch carefully and slow down to read when you are installing anything.
- Don’t Open Emails that are from an Unknown Sender or Seem Too Good to be True (They are!)
Your email inbox is another target that is commonly used this time of year. Be VERY cautious and never open unsolicited emails or emails that seem too good to be true – they always are! You could unknowingly open an email with the CryptoLocker malware attached or give your personal information away to those who will steal everything they can from you.
- Be Cautious When Opening Emails from Well-Known Chain Stores
Even places like CVS, Wal-mart, Target and other stores you may shop at frequently can be “spoofed”, meaning that the email you think is from them is actually an online scam. Again, if it seems to good to be true, it is. Avoid clicking links within emails and giving away any personal information in return for that “free $100 gift card”.
Help us spread the word and talk about these online scams with friends, family and neighbors. If you think you may have been compromised, call us immediately at (207) 443-9554.
Additional Resources for learning more about Online Scams: