"Good morning Sir, are you the owner or user of the computer in your household?"
This was the first sentence I heard this morning from a young lady with a strong Asian accent.
I acknowledged this and waited for a response, knowing where this will probably be going.
"We have been getting reports from serious problems and security risks from your computer and would like to help you fix them. Is your computer connected to the internet?"
Working in IT for the last 20 years, I often forget that many people use their computer like an appliance, surfing the internet and writing mails. Generally, most people do not know the dangers of people taking control of a computer, the ability to spy data, especially banking details, to name but a few dangers. Make no mistake: if your computer is connected to the internet, you are at risk!
Curious on how they wish to continue, knowing this scam from back in 2011, I told them I require help, and acted computer illiterate.
"Please let me transfer you to my supervisor to help you." there was a click, and suddenly a man with a strong Indian accent took over the conversation. He introduced himself as Jack Williams (I could hardly hold back my laughter at the attempt of this generic name.
"Hello Sir, we would love to assist you in fixing your computer problem. It looks like your data is at serious risk and we need to act immediately! First we need to diagnose what the problem is."
Again, I decided to see what his plan is, knowing computers and IT very well, I felt confident enough to be able to avert any damage that may come out of this.
"Please describe your keyboard to me and tell me what keys you have at the bottom left."
I started reading the keys to him, and when I told him about the windows key, he immediately interrupted.
"Please press the windows key and the "R" at the same time."
This, as many windows users will know, opens up a window that allows you to run commands by typing them. It’s fairly standard stuff for support personnel, as it is simpler to navigate and remains the same for any windows version. There is no danger in pressing these keys, but it potentially allows you to run unwanted programs.
In this case he wanted me to start a little program called the event viewer. It shows what the computer is up to and potential problems. Thing is, almost every computer will have an error message in the event viewer, though most of the time these can be ignored and do not represent a real fault, but rather inform the user that certain functions are not working or have started. Nothing to panic about, but someone who does not know this, may be intimidated and see this as proof that the really IS a problem.
He then wanted me to read the entries for him, trying to prove to me that my computer had a problem, when in fact it was fine.
Once I started to agree with him that there may be a problem, the final step to this deceit was suggested.
"If you install a special support software for me sir, I can fix this in no time. You can find this software on the following website (insert one of the many remote control softwares out there here), and register a user. Once that is done please let me know the ID and I will connect to your computer and fix it. I will walk you through each step so, no worries!"
And this ladies and gentlemen, is what you should NEVER EVER do. Installing such a software will allow them to take full control over your computer.
Once the person has control over your computer, he can do just about anything he wants to. Background tasks can be activated; ensuring that this connection can be repeated without your knowledge, your data (pics, music, banking doc!) can be copied or deleted, as long as your computer is connected to the internet.
Though I broke off this call at that point, telling him to go to hell, I have read up on further reports, that will at some point require credit card or paypal details, and failure to do so can result in malicious attacks from these people. They will claim to be from Microsoft, they will lie through their teeth, they will promise to solve your problems, but all they want is your money, and they will not refrain from causing harm and damage to your property, which includes your data.
So, for everyone that uses their computer as an appliance, without knowing the ins and outs of Windows or Mac, there are 4 simple rules you need to adhere to, to make your computer as safe as possible:
1.) Have a virus scanner installed. This can be either a bought product like Norton or one of the free scanners like Avira. Run that virus scanner on a regular basis, though most virus scanners actively check for viruses each time a new file is copied on the system.
2.) Have a malware scanner installed, like MalwareBytes. This software is especially attuned to internet risks and internet browser exploits. The freeware version is fine, and covers most functionality, but I would suggest in investing in this software.
3.) Ensure your firewall is active, which helps to protect you from incoming attacks from the internet. You may need some help from a computer literate person to do this, but in these days you should have a friend you can trust to check this for you.
4.) Finally, never run any command that a stranger tells you to. There is NO way anyone can see your computer problems the way they are claiming. NEVER install software that is suggested to you, even if it seems trivial. These days there are ways to mask dangerous software with real programs that seem to have another function. If you open a webpage that asks you to run a software, click NO, as this is another method to gain control (there are exceptions to this rule, but if you are on a webpage that is not from a known software manufacturer, chances are it’s a Trojan). If you stuck to steps 1 to 3, you should be getting a warning that the software you are installing is unsafe.
These people can get mean when they notice that you are taking them for a ride, read more about this users experience here:
Please be safe out there, be vigilant, crime is not just physical, it can happen on your computer by simply running the wrong program.