- Written by Mark Rinaudo Mark Rinaudo
Question: What do I do when I’m browsing the web and my computer suddenly flashes a warning telling me my computer has infections and I should call a number on the screen to have them removed?
As an IT consultant, I’ve seen all kinds of ways for scammers to make money off of the uninformed by intimidating them with fear.
If you’re asked to call a number that shows up while you are searching inside a web browser, no matter who they say they are, do not call them. It is most likely a scam.
This particular scam starts innocently enough. You want to go to a particular website for your favorite online store, but you don’t know the exact web address for this website. You type in the name of the company in the web address bar, and it pulls up a list of matching websites.
Like most search engines, the paid search results are displayed at the very top. This is where scammers enter the picture. Scammers are betting on you clicking on one of the top handful of results that states it’s the website that you want to go to.
Unfortunately, when you click that search result, you’re not usually going to your desired website. You are actually clicking on an ad purchased by the scammer.
As you click on this link, you’re redirected through a chain of websites that ultimately lands on a fake website. It will cause your browser to pop up a window that takes up your whole computer screen and disables any means of closing it.
For added intimidation, your speakers may start talking to inform you that your machine is infected and your machine is going to infect other machines.
You’re presented with a message that your machine is infected and needs to be cleaned and that you should call the 1-800 number provided on that screen.
You’re in the beginning stage of a scam. If you do call the scammer and allow them to connect to your computer, then the security of your machine has been compromised.
In most cases the scammers will install free, downloadable software from the web on your machine to “clean” your machine. They ask for your credit card information, of course, before doing this. The charge to provide this service can range from $200 on up.
If you think calling your credit card company after the fact will help, you’ll be surprised to learn there’s nothing they can do about it because you gave the scammer permission to connect to your machine and install the free software.
You’re basically paying them a minimum of $200 an hour to install free software that you could download and install yourself.
The danger in all this is when you allow this scammer to connect to your machine, you are allowing a complete stranger, under false pretenses, to have complete access to your computer and all the files on it.
Now, you may not think this is very dangerous, but think about it this way. This dubious individual has had access to install whatever they want on your machine.
Sure, you may have turned off your computer, or disconnected the network cable from the back of your computer and hung up on them, but did you do this before they had time to install their software onto your machine?
They could still have access to your machine. They may have installed a key logger program that’s keeping track of everything that you’re typing into your computer and sending it back to them. Bank account logins. Credit card numbers. Account logins to your online financial websites. The possibilities are endless.
If you ever find yourself in this predicament, the easiest thing to do is hit the power button on your computer. If your computer will not turn off, then hold the power button in for longer than four seconds, which will turn it off. It’s the simplest way to get out of the scammer’s snare.
If you fall prey to the deception and let a spammer onto your computer, it will need to be professionally wiped clean so that no malicious software remains operating on it.
Mark Rinaudo has been working in IT in Shreveport, La., for more than 20 years. He is the owner and operator of Preferred Data Solutions. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to submit a question for this column.