At some point you may see a popup like this while browsing the web, I've seen them and I'm using a Mac!
While it may be obvious to some of you, there are people out there with limited computer knowledge that believe this to be a real warning, and why not? It looks OK at first glance, it has Microsoft all over the page, it kind of does look like a real antivirus scan, it's a toll free number and it's telling you that your FINANCIAL information has been compromised. This is a SCAM! Microsoft will never ask you to call them for support in such a way, in fact, newer version of Windows includes a pretty robust antivirus package called either Windows Defender or Microsoft Security Essentials. While not as common, there is a very similar scam that involves the tech support company actually calling you directly. If you receive such a call you should tell them you are not interested and to hang up, do NOT give them ANY information over the phone.
What will happen if you call one of these 'Certified Live Technicians'? They will ask you to install some type of remote access software so they can 'take a look' at your computer. Once they have access to your computer, they will usually create a text file on your desktop, put their contact information in it and instruct you to not contact anyone else for technical support. They will look through your file system and show you files that somehow 'prove' that your computer has been compromised. The files you are seeing are usually files installed by Windows to support other cultures and are perfectly safe. Once you have been shown the 'proof' that your computer has been compromised you will be told that they remove the virus for a fee and they may even have several options. They may ask for your credit card information over the phone or you may be asked to visit a web site to enter your credit card information. There is also a chance that the 'support tech' may install an actual virus on your computer or they may copy files from your computer in the hope of getting some of your personal information but many of the outfits running this type of scam simply want your money from the credit card transaction. There is also a variant of this scam where they will actually delete files from your computer, this is VERY dangerous as sometimes they delete critical system files that Windows needs to run properly. Of course, there are MANY variants of this type of scam.
What to do if this happens? The very first thing you should do is to call your credit card company, report the fraudulent charge, ask them to cancel your card and issue you a new one. You should open your antivirus program and run a FULL virus scan. If you are unsure about how to do this, contact a 'techie' family member or if you have a local computer support company that you deal with, contact them and explain what happened.
With the complexity and ingenuity of some of the online scams along with the sheer amount emails being received it's not always easy to differentiate between what is valid and what is potentially harmful. By taking just a few small precautions, it's possible to all but eliminate most of these threats.
- Don't EVER trust a popup while you're on the internet. If you see a popup that instructs you to call your bank or to visit a website to validate your credentials, do NOT EVERY click the link or call the number in the popup. Instead, close all your browser windows, open a new window and go DIRECTLY to the bank (or whichever company was indicated) web site and either call the number listed there or log into your account from the main page.
- Don't EVER click on a link to your bank or any site you do business with in an email you receive. As with the popup, go directly to the company's main web site and continue from there.
- If you receive a phone call from a financial institution you normally do business with, do NOT give them any information related to your account, such as account number or PIN and do not give them any personal information. If your credit card company calls you, they ALREADY have all your information so they should only ask you to either verify the last 4 digits of your card or ask for you PHONE PIN. If they ask for any other information, be wary. Again, hang up and call your financial institution directly.
- If you receive a phone call from Microsoft or any organization saying they are affiliated with Microsoft regarding issues with your computer, hang up.