In today’s age of scammers, spammers, and phishing, it’s a story you hear all the time: a friend was visiting his parents and when he arrived, he overheard his father on the phone giving his credit card number to someone. The friend noticed his father was sitting in front of his computer and someone else was in control of it. Immediately, he rushed over and took control of the call, but it was too late. The caller had put an encrypted password on his father’s computer, which had Windows 10 as its operating system. Windows 10 has much better password controls than prior versions, creating a situation in which the security safeguards were being used against the owner of the computer. The caller had taken the computer hostage and had complete control of the it and its contents.
Often, we wonder how this can happen when computer scams area so prevalent in our digital world. The scammers and hackers are getting more and more clever with every new phishing scheme. This time, someone called their house and said they were with the cable company and that they noticed that their internet was running slowly. The caller said that he was calling as a courtesy because of the slow internet connection and that they needed to perform some routine maintenance. He asked to take control of their computer to test the cable modem and router. Permission was granted and the caller then saw what he called, “other problems on the computer that required Microsoft support.”
"Please hold for a Microsoft representative to be connected,” he said. From there they took control of the computer completely, installed the encrypted password, and told them that the only way to get their computer back was to pay a ransom of $169, which was why he had given his credit card number to them. He was paying the ransom. What other choice did he have?
The first call they made was to the credit card company to freeze the card and let them know the situation. It’s interesting that it was only for $169, but likely, the scammers have determined if they make the ransom too high, people won’t pay it.
How does this happen? First, most of us trust someone calling our home, especially when they appear to be calling from a company that we are familiar with. In Albuquerque and surrounding areas, there are two major cable companies: Xfinity and Century Link, so a scammer calling and representing themselves as being from one of these two, has a decent chance of mentioning the right provider.
We hear these stories every day and it’s frustrating when people are taken advantage of. Here are some tips to use in these situations:
Rule #1: Don’t give your credit card number out to someone who has initiated the call to you, unless you know them. If you initiate the call because you’ve been watching the home shopping network and can’t resist that all in one Air-Fryer and Crockpot being advertised, that’s different.
Rule #2: Don’t fall for something that looks legitimate. Even if you are prompted by a message in an email, text, or pop up on your computer to call a number, do NOT give your credit card information out. As we said, scammers and hackers are getting very good at making phishing scams look legitimate. They can imitate big company logos like Microsoft, Amazon, or Verizon. A tip for suspicious emails: hover your mouse over the sender's email address, without clicking it. You can often see the full email address, e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org, which reveals that it's a fraudulent email.
Rule #3: Even if the caller has a local area code, that can’t be trusted either. There are programs that allow callers to use one phone number and have it appear as another which allows hackers to look like they are calling locally. By utilizing these services, you are seeing a number from the 505-area code, but the caller can be anywhere in the world.
The gentleman who had to pay the ransom for his computer is a retired Engineer and was upset that he fell for this scam. Most of us consider ourselves intelligent, but sometimes, we are too trusting.
Here at Computer Corner, we have a program that can remotely access your computer for service-related issues, but you know who we are and we will always ask permission when you contact us for service help. But remember, no one from Computer Corner will ever initiate a call to you and request to access your computer. This will only happen if you initiate a service request with us.
If something sounds strange, likely it is. If you get a call from one of your service providers asking you to access your phone, computer, or banking information, don’t provide it, but rather hang up and call your provider directly to see if the information is legitimate. Often you will find, it wasn’t.
Stay vigilant friends!