For a sizable percentage of computer users, the background tasks of their machine are largely a mystery. In fairness, that’s generally the way it’s designed to be, as most simply don’t need to know what every service, process or task does on their system. Unfortunately, this can leave you open to being misled by the unscrupulous, who take advantage of those with less knowledge of the ins and outs of their machine; The “Scammers”! Oh, how I hate them so. Sure, they do create business for me when I am asked to fix systems they compromised, but when these lowlifes take advantage of people who are often already nervous about using their computer, they further add to the fear factor that often surrounds technology for many people. I don’t want to see anyone frightened to benefit from their computer, phone or tablet. Quite the contrary, in fact.
The techniques the scammers use are becoming increasingly devious and convincing, so here are my tips for avoiding falling victim:
If the phone rings and someone indicates they’re from Microsoft, McAfee, Norton, an Internet Service Provider (e.g. BT, TalkTalk or Sky) or even the Police (yes, I have heard of someone being told this) telling you they intend to help fix an issue on your computer, don’t believe them. These organisations are not interested in the performance of your computer, whether it has a virus or checking that your details haven’t been stolen. They don’t have the resources to monitor every system, so unless you’re paying an IT support organisation specifically to monitor your machine and/or network, it’s extremely unlikely anyone will call you to advise there’s “an issue”.
If you do talk to someone calling and they ask you to install software on your machine to give them remote access, that is a big alarm bell. Software like ‘TeamViewer’, ‘GoToMyPC’, ‘Splashtop’ & ‘LogMeIn’ are all perfectly legitimate tools and will be used by IT Supporters all the time. But like all good tools, they can be abused, so if someone you don’t know or you didn’t contact yourself asks you to go to a website and download such software, I’d very much advise against it.
In the case of your Internet Service Provider, they may cut or slow down your service if they see unusual or large amounts of traffic from your connection, but it’s unlikely they’d call to tell you. They’d take action to protect their network and other customers and then wait for you to call them.
- Be Cautious of Emails, even from people you know.
You may have heard the term “phishing”. I do love a bit of ‘fishing’ – it’s very relaxing, but ‘phishing’ uses a similar bait & hook principle to try and catch you out and is anything but relaxing. You’ll receive an email from say your Bank. It’ll tell you there’s been some suspicious activity on your account or that you need to verify your details and they’ll be a link in the email for you to click to login. The email might look just like legitimate messages you’ve received from your bank in the past. STOP! Don’t click that link. In all likelihood, it’ll open a webpage that might look just like the page you see when you log in to your bank, but it isn’t; it’s a clone, and it’s just waiting for you to enter your login details. Once you’ve put them in, someone that definitely isn’t your bank now has your details, and they may be able to use them to log in to your real online banking service.
If you’re in any doubt, contact your Bank via telephone or go to a branch with a print out of the email and ask. They will soon be able to tell you if the notification or information request was real… and I’ll bet it’s not. If you do phone, don’t use any contact number listed in the email, as it could be fake.
- Received a letter asking me to call – if it seems odd, it probably is
Postal scams are less common, but they do still happen, and many simply don’t expect a scam around their technology to start in such a low tech way, but it can and does. As with the email phishing scam, “snail-mail” phishing can be an effective way of gaining your confidence. A nice letter with all the right logos and addresses on it and either a phone number to call or a website visit. All they want is for you to enter your details, be that login information or even better, your debit or credit card details.
If you’re not sure, make contact with the organisation but DO NOT use the phone or website information listed in the letter. Find some other correspondence from them you know to be legitimate and use the contact information on that. Sure, it might not be the right department, but at least you know it’s the right organisation, and they will be able to transfer you or provide the right telephone number, if necessary.
The bottom line; your vigilance is your best defence. This is far from an exhaustive list of the tactics and techniques used to try and trick you. You can have the best anti-virus, firewall and spam filter in the world, but if you invite them in, all that will be bypassed. So be suspicious, be difficult and be safe!
IT Support Specialist