Hey Baltimore, let’s talk about preventing yourself and your loved ones from malicious internet fraudsters, specifically fraud tech support services.
What is fraud tech support?
Typically, the scam goes something like this:
The victim gets a phone call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft, Google, Apple, or some other legitimate technology company.
This person claims to have detected some kind of intrusion or threat on the victim’s computer, and offers to investigate and repair the problem.
The fraudster then direct the victim to a special website that gives them the power to take control of the victim’s computer. This website will be disguised to look legitimate and might even have words like Microsoft in the address bar (virus-removal-microsoft.com is NOT the same as legitimate microsoft.com or support.microsoft.com — always check the web address).
The fraudster then “investigates” the problem, occasionally directing the victim’s attention to potentially alarming parts of Windows or OSX. A favorite area is the Event Viewer, which shows off all of the tiny software issues that Windows has logged. The vast majority of these errors will have no impact on performance and have nothing to do with viruses, but without proper context it’s easy to assume your computer is inches away from catching fire.
Somewhere along the line, the scam artist will bug the victim for money, maybe go so far as to threaten them or seize precious files or the computer itself via the internet. Sometimes this threat will end horribly, with the victim’s computer totally locked down with all files irretrievably due to something called Cryptowall, Sometimes the scammer will make countless, untraceable changes to the computer to compromise its security, leaving the poor thing vulnerable to later intrusions or infections. Yeesh.
How do you prevent the scam?
As always, the best security starts with prevention. In the case of fraud tech support, stopping it in its tracks is actually pretty simple. Fraudsters tend to target seniors because they tend to be the least suspicious of computer magicians. Spreading awareness to the problem might help a worried senior make the right choice when it matters most.
Microsoft, Apple, and Google will NEVER just call you. Sure, sometimes tech support services will expect you to schedule a call from a technician. This is normal and, if you’re expecting a support technician to call you, then it’s probably fine. Major tech companies do not offer virus removal as a part of their warranty, do not monitor your computer’s health, and probably don’t even have your phone number. They will never just ring you up to warn you about a potential threat. If that happens, hang up. Maybe block the number (but report that number to the FCC first, please).
ALWAYS be wary of any windows or program on your computer asking you to call a number, especially if they’re warning you about a virus or some computer problem. If some crazy thing pops up on your computer out of the blue with a phone number attached, don’t call it. If the pop up is a nuisance, call Poindexter instead.
Fraud tech support got to me! What now?
If they just called you, hang up before you divulge anything personal.
IF you got duped into telling them your credit card number, immediately contact your credit service provider and warn them to be on the look out for fraudulent charges. Possibly have them freeze the card or even issue a new card with a new number.
IF you let them have access your computer, hang up the phone and disconnect the computer from the internet. If your computer is wired to the internet, pull the plug. If it’s a wireless connection, unplug your router. This will cut the scammer off from your computer. Next, we need to undo whatever changes they made. But brace yourself, this might sting a bit.
If a scammer is given remote, unrestricted access to the computer, there’s no telling what changes they can make or how thoroughly they can cover their tracks. The only way to be certain that the computer is disinfected and secure is to erase your data and reinstall your operating system.
First, backup your essential files to a flash drive or external hard drive and scan them using a separate, clean computer to verify that nothing is contaminated. If there’s nothing essential that needs to be saved (family photos, music files, home movies, business documents, etc), then we can proceed with wiping the computer and reinstalling it’s operating system (usually Windows, but sometimes OSX, if it’s an Apple product). There are a few ways to do this, some less time consuming than others, but it depends on what software your computer is using (Windows 7, 8.1, 10 or something else).
For Windows 7, a full reinstall is the best course of action. This is the only way to guarantee that all creepy crawlies have been purged and the system is secured.
For Windows 8 or 8.1, a full reinstall might be best, but refreshing the operating system might be a worthwhile and faster alternative. Refreshing will reinstall the operating system’s files, but won’t disrupt Apps you’ve installed or your personal files. Apps are mini-programs you probably downloaded form the Microsoft Store. You’ll have to reinstall all of your Programs, however, so if this is already a big hassle, consider reinstalling the Windows 8 (or 8.1) from scratch. If you didn’t get your program from the Microsoft Store, it’ll need to be reinstalled.
For Windows 10, exactly the same options are available. Refreshing might be a great solution, but with the same potential problems (reinstalling all of your programs, but not Apps).
Can Poindexter help?
Of course! If you’d rather have an inexpensive, professional computer repair, Poindexter is always available to help. We serve the Hampden area, Baltimore, and have helped countless folks recover from internet fraud of all kinds. If you, a parent, or grand parent has been the victim of internet or tech support fraud, contact Poindexter for personal help from an industry professional. We’ll get this squared away for you, promise.