It’s been a while since I wrote about computer scams, but every week I’m seeing more people affected by these attacks.   Not a week goes by without 3-4 of my customers losing money or time to scammers, so I thought it’d be a good time to bring you up to date with their latest tactics.

By far the most popular scam at the moment is a pop up message from Microsoft warning that you have a virus and that you must contact them immediately to remove it.   Believe me, if you’ve ever had to phone Microsoft, you’d know straight away that it’s a scam – Microsoft never wants to talk to you!!

The message is simply a web page made to look like a warning on your computer.  Sneakily they make the web page difficult to close, leading you to call them to remove it.    Once you make the call (usually to a call center in a remote country), they’ll insist that they’ll need remote access to your computer.   Please, please, don’t call them and even more importantly, don’t let them onto your computer!    I’ve recently had a few cases where the scammers will place a password on your computer so that you can no longer use it!   They’ll then call you back in a few days and use this as blackmail to charge a ransom fee to give you access back (even though they may still not remove the password).   Evil eh?

If you do encounter one of these messages, the fix is actually really simple.   All you have to do is close your web browser!   They haven’t done anything to your computer – you have no virus and you’re not in any danger.   However, you might not be able close the window so what do you do?  Simple – reboot the computer.   This will close the web page, and when the computer comes back up, you’re back to normal!

So how can you avoid these pop ups?   Your Anti-Virus isn’t going to protect you, as this isn’t an actual virus – just a web page.    The best way to avoid these pop ups is to watch which pages you visit.   A common tactic is to use search engines such as Google against you.   Try this – search for “Microsoft Support” on Google.   Now before you click on any links, take a look at the top few results.   You’ll notice “(Ad)” next to the link (in green usually).    This means that the link is actually an advert.   Now this is actually quite sneaky on Google’s part, as the adverts look just like real results.   Any result with “(Ad)” next to it has been paid for.   The scammers are targeting common phrases (in this case “Microsoft Support”) and are paying to be top of the results.   Clicking on one of these Ads will likely result in a virus pop up!   They’re more than making their money back on the cost of the advert by scamming anyone who clicks on the link!

The second most used (abused) tactic to scam money from you is when someone purportedly from Microsoft calls you out of the blue to say they’ve detected a virus on your computer and that they need to get access to remove it from you.    Microsoft currently has 120,849 employees – if they dedicated all of these to calling people with viruses, they would still be swamped!   Microsoft doesn’t call anyone.  Period.

If you get one of these calls, politely decline the offer.   If they keep pushing, well, tell them where to go.   They’re wasting your time and are only trying to scam you.    If you’re still worried there might be a problem – give me a call!

I’ll soon be offering a service called “Shield” to monitor and protect your computer 24×7 based on all the advice I’ve been offering in this column.   If you’re interested in this service, email me at ngunn@scotiasystems.com and I’ll update you when it’s available.

Until next time, stay safe online!