Have you ever been in front of your computer, minding your own business, when an ominous window appears informing you your computer is infected? Quite often, they use entirely legitimate sounding names like Windows System Fixer or Windows Ultimate Scam Removal. Whatever you do, don’t click on ANYTHING! Instead, in Windows press CTRL-ALT-DEL, select task manager, and end the process for your browser or the malicious program. In the world of Apple, you would click CMD-OPTION-ESC to bring up Force Quit Applications and quit the program. Typical browsers may be Internet Explorer (the Big “E”), Microsoft Edge (on Windows 10), Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or Apple Safari.
Another potential scenario starts with your phone ringing, sometimes with an out of area or blocked number and more recently it could even be what appears to be a local number. You answer it to hear a voice (usually in horribly broken English) informing you that your iCloud, computer, phone, tablet, (fill in whatever device/service you can think of here) has become infected. You get asked if they can connect to your system; at this point, if you allow them access, it’s pretty much over.
If you are one of the multitudes of people who have fallen for these tactics, don’t feel too bad about it or beat yourself up too much. These charlatans have become increasingly bold, and through that boldness, they bring along a certain confidence that can help you to feel relieved that they caught it and can help. With that said, let’s just spill the beans right now. There is a very high probability that whatever they are referring to has not been attacked, is not infected, and most likely never was. When they “get” you is when you allow them to access your PC, or also troubling, provide them with your credit card number. If the latter, stop reading this article, call your credit card company, bank or whoever provides that card to you and cancel it. Do it NOW! Don’t worry; we’ll wait for you right here.
Got that done? Okay, good. Now, not to be too alarming, but if you allowed them access to your PC, things become infinitely more troubling to resolve. Gaining access to your computer is the holy grail for scammers, they then have the keys to the kingdom. They are now able to retrieve your bank login and other account information. Passwords are quite often stored in your web browser and help you by automatically filling in login forms. While this can be incredibly convenient, typically, all those programs save your passwords in plain text. That means anyone with just a small bit of computer savvy can look into the place those passwords are stored and retrieve them. If you have EVER provided someone access to your PC without first adequately verifying their authority, then you should stop reading and change ALL of your passwords follow that up by asking someone you trust to check your computer for any remnants left behind. If you reached out to a computer technician that you have properly verified is indeed who they claim to be, then you are most likely fine.
There are many password programs available, some free, and some charge a small monthly or yearly fee. LastPass, KeePassX, DashLane and Enpass are all viable solutions (for the record, I use LastPass) that help you to not only maintain your passwords securely but will also help you to create unique and strong passwords for your web browsing. Most often you just have to remember one, preferably really secure password, and the program provides your credentials via browser plug-ins, an app on your smartphone or through the program’s website.
Unless you work in the tech industry and you have some partnership with the company (and rarely even then) will you receive a call from Microsoft, Apple, Samsung, Dell, Lenovo, etc. They definitely wouldn’t be calling you to alert you to something going on with your machine. So, unless you are paying a company each month to monitor your system for you, then you should NEVER trust anyone calling you out of the blue.
Have more questions about this topic? Or anything technology related? Want to know more about how to keep yourself safe online? We are happy to discuss these items with you, just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading. We’ll see you next month. (We’ll try to make it less scary.) QCBN
By Greg Hicks