NEWS FLASH: There are people in this world who want to trick you and take your money! Trick you into thinking your computer is in crisis. Trick you into thinking they are Microsoft or Paypal or Amazon. Trick you into letting them remotely access your computer. Trick you into thinking that they found an unfathomable amount of problems on your computer. Trick you into believing they can fix it.
Trick you into giving them your credit card.
There are hundreds of these scams out there. It starts with the hook. This is some event that makes you think, “huh, something’s wrong, these people can help me”.
HOOK 1: While using your browser, a full screen warning suddenly appears on your screen, looking very official, that says a problem was detected and you need to call this number or risk losing everything. You call the toll free number. You’re hooked.
HOOK 2: You get an email from Paypal/Amazon/Google/Microsoft/your bank that says ‘there is a problem with your account. Your orders/funds are all frozen until we hear from you. Optionally? Here is the $1000 thing you ordered… except you didn’t order that. Questions? Call this number or click this link. There is the logo for them, looks legit. You click or call. You’re hooked.
HOOK 3: You get a phone call. Itsa-me, Microsoft! We-sah detected a terrible virus on your computer. We need to access it and correct it immediately or you might lose everything! Oh noes! And by golly, the caller ID says Microsoft so it must be true! You follow their instructions to download the viewer program on your computer. You’re hooked.
HOOK 4: You get an email from someone you know with a link of something they think you will enjoy. Maybe it’s a work-related email from a stranger who is looking for a job… their resume in ZIP format attached. How about an email from the authorities asking if you recognize the person from your family in this picture (open attachment). Then surprise! Your files are all encrypted. Send Bitcoin to us for password to unlock. Well, you could just restore from your backups. What? No backups!?
I’m getting a bit too surly, aren’t I? Its because I’ve dealt with these exact situations so many times in my 30+ years… and it makes me angry. And there are so many more hooks. They can come from software you downloaded (games are a favorite target. They can come from posts you see online about this person having a problem and all they did was run this program. How about the text message or Facebook message from someone you know, sharing a link and gushing about how you just have to see this. There are spins on these hooks, too. #3 has been done as your bank, the FBI, the IRS… all trying to trick you into something.
SO, BRIAN, IF YOU’RE SO WISE, HOW DO I AVOID BEING TRICKED? I hear you thinking it. It’s odd that you think in bold all-caps, but whatever. The answer is: You can’t.
You can’t avoid it. You can not. You are someone who believes others. You are not a skeptical person. You trust strangers. That’s just who you are. Have I been tricked? Yep. Am I proud of it? Nope. Sucks to be a trusting person, don’t it?
Here’s the dramatic ending: I don’t want you to call me every time you get a phone call/email/message on your screen. I swear to God, I do not. Every time I get one of these calls, my heart sinks and my soul weeps because the scammers got another one, and now I have to undo what has been done and worst of all, explain how it happened.
I will give you this free advice:
- Find a person in your life that you trust. When you get that email/phone call/message, do not respond until you talk to that person. Nothing is that urgent that can’t wait.
- If you realize you’ve made a mistake? Turn off the computer and call your bank/credit card company to freeze unknown transactions. You could take your computer to one of the mega-chains like Best Buy or Microcenter, have them look for problems. You want to call me, don’t you? No. Just no.
- Never let anyone remotely access your computer unless you can drive to their house and drink with them. If a friend asks for access in a text or email message, call them and speak to them on the phone and confirm that it is them first… or better still, invite them over and supply them with their drink of choice.
- Backup. DUH. Backup.