By David Wach June 20, 2016
A “Windows Technician” called me to today. This really comes as no surprise. I’ve received about dozen of these phones calls in the past. I’ve known about this scam for a number of years, but he was very convincing nonetheless. In fact, if I wasn’t an IT professional, I may have considered letting him walk me through some of the “troubleshooting” that he was going to provide to me.
As I was uttering some profanities and laughing into the phone, I thought to myself – who would fall for this? The answer popped into my head immediately: My mother, my sister, my in-laws, my friends, my co-workers, my neighbors…we are all at risk. Sure, some of you would say, “Not me! I wouldn’t fall for that.” Unfortunately, the fact is that people do fall for these scams. And while you may not fall for it, someone you know probably already has. Why else would this guy be trying so relentlessly to convince me?
With this thought in mind, I would like to share some information and some basic tips with you in the hopes that you will, in turn, share with your friends and family to help to protect against this type of scam. First, a proactive approach to protecting yourself before the phone even rings.
Proactive Step 1: Anti-Virus software: Install it and Keep it up to date!
Before we get into the phone call, there are number of free and\or inexpensive products out there that will help you to “leave a light on” your computer. A quick Google search will yield a variety of programs to choose from. McAfee and Norton are two of the most common Anti-Virus Software packages, and while most IT people would scoff at them, they are better than nothing. Both can have a tendency to slow your computer down as they tend to be heavy on resources. My opinion changes monthly on AV software, but I would recommend Microsoft Security Essentials (Free), AVG, or Webroot. Bear in mind that while whichever you choose will offer protection against Viruses and Malware, the virus-creators of the world work extra hard at trying to get into your computer, so any missing updates could have terrible consequences.
Proactive Step 2: Operating System and Software Updates: Keep them up to date!
Still prior to the phone ringing, whether you use a PC, Mac or Linux computer, it is always recommended that you stay updated with the latest versions. I’m sure everyone has heard that updates can cause corruption and break your computer and though this is true to some extent, the risk of not keeping your computer current is far greater. If you’re still running a version of Windows that is no longer supported, (XP users, you know who you are!) then it’s time to trade in for a younger model.
Proactive Step 3: Back it up!
While looking at the proactive defenses against these virus-spreading villains, it is wise to have your data backed up whether you store images and videos of your family, an extensive music library, schoolwork, taxes, or client information. Though external hard drives are an affordable solution and good in a pinch, I don’t personally recommend them as they tend to have a higher failure rate. Additionally, the biggest threat to computers today is RansomWare (a type of virus that encrypts your files and holds them hostage until you pay for the keys), and if your external drive is plugged into your computer and you are infected, then the drive will become encrypted as well. There are several home solutions on the market that are reliable but I recommend using Carbonite (https://www.carbonite.com/). It is a solution that can buy you peace of mind for as little as $42.00 per year with a 3 year subscription. Additionally, Carbonite can help you to recover from RansomWare as they keep up to 12 versions of your files available to you. As an added bonus, their customer service has been excellent the few times that I’ve had to reach out to them – and we all know how short companies can be on customer service these days. Their representatives are patient, helpful and knowledgeable.
Now that we are protected to our best ability, let’s look at the “Do’s and Don’ts” of the actual phone call from that “Windows Technician.”
A few examples of responses from these pesky professionals:
Towards the end of the phone call it usually takes a harsh turn with them telling me that I’ll never be able to use my computer, cursing and swearing, and in one case the caller threatened to kill me. This is why I do not encourage you to stay on the phone. We don’t know how far these guys can reach or how willing they are to do so. They have my name and phone number already and, with that, they could potentially deduce my email address, look up my home address, or continue to call. After one phone call involving another type of scam where the guy on the other end was trying to sell me toner and I kept him on the phone for nearly 15 minutes before letting him know that I didn’t have a printer, he called right back after I hung up to curse at me, which for some people can be quite rattling.
That’s it. Really we can sum up everything above with a few simple basics that will help you not to fall victim to this type of scam:
Please share this with your co-workers, friends and family. Telephone scammers prey on the uninformed as they are the most vulnerable. If you receive a call and are unsure of what to do, contact your Network Administrator, Managed Service Provider or that friend of yours that is “Tech Savvy” for direction, and they ask if they can take a look at your computer for you.
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