Three Easy Steps to Protect Yourself from Computer Scammers

You Can Be Smarter Than The Criminals

Remember those con artists who would go from door to door in the 80’s, convincing people that they were legitimate businesspeople who could cut the customer an extra good deal because they were “already in the neighborhood”? 

I would hear about them on my local news station’s Consumer Protection segment, and usually, the victims never got all their money back – and pretty much lost their faith in humanity in the process. 

Well, there’s a whole new generation of these dishonest people, and they’re trying to con you online. You need to learn some new steps to protect yourself right now, so that you and those you love don’t become victims.

Learn More

Read "The Very Real, Difficult Fight Against Tech Support Scams" by The Forbes Technology Council at Forbes Magazine.

Find out more

1. Be very careful downloading “free” software

I am always very hesitant to download anything new onto my computer, and I try to teach my customers the same skepticism. Installing anything means that the registry of your computer is changed permanently, and some programs that you might think would be helpful are actually malware, spyware, or outright viruses. Research any program very diligently before you download it or install it. 

I usually type the name of the program and the word “malware” into my search engine and see what comes up. If it looks like there are very few or no people complaining that the program is bad, try typing in the name of the program and the word “reviews” into your search bar. Make sure that other people are doing similar things with the software and find it useful. Remember that once you install it, it might not be uninstalled easily, so look for glowing reviews, not just neutral ones. 

Oh, and by the way, even good programs sometimes come “bundled” with bad stuff. It’s how they pay their bills! They agree to allow their advertisers to attach their junky programs to the good program’s download or installation process and charge them a fee for doing so – and it doesn’t appear that most of them check the legitimacy, utility, or safety of these add-on programs. 

You must be doubly careful to check each and every page during the download and installation processes for evidence that something else is being added on. If something extra is being offered, do not automatically take it! Look for tiny grey checkboxes that say “no, I don’t want the extra program” or something similar. If those boxes aren’t there, I would recommend cancelling the download entirely. 

This is probably one of the most dangerous activities out there in the war against malware. Don’t let it get you!

You might be downloading more than you think!

You might be downloading more than you think!

2. Check the extensions, plugins, and add-ons in your web browser often

Even if you’re very careful about downloads, the rare rogue software can sometimes get onto your computer, usually in the form of browser add-ons, plugins, or extensions. Keep these lists pared down to the bare minimum – only those that you recognize, and hopefully those that perform a useful task for you, should be kept. 

If you're using the Google Chrome web browser, click on the three dots just below the X in the upper right corner of your screen. Go to More Tools, and click on Extensions. A page will open showing all the extensions you have, both active and inactive.

To review your plugins and extensions in the Firefox browser, click on the three lines in the upper right corner of your screen, and choose Add-Ons. The Add-ons Manager tab will open, and you can look at what's been added to your browser.

For Microsoft Edge, start by clicking the three horizontal dots in the top right corner of your browser, then click Extensions. The browser will show the extensions you have installed, along with the "suggested" extensions Microsoft would like to tempt you with.

If you’re uncertain, disable the modules you don’t recognize, and see if you miss them. You probably won’t, and they’re out!

Opening the Google Chrome Extensions Manager

Opening the Google Chrome Extensions Manager

3. NEVER let anyone you don’t know log into your computer, no matter who they say they are!

There’s a family of rip-offs called Tech Support Scams that seems to be growing rapidly, and they could make your computer virtually unusable, particularly if you fall for one of the Remote Access variants of the scam. These scammers have several ways of reaching you – over the telephone, through email, or with a "WARNING!" message that pops up on your computer – but they just want one thing: to log into your computer.

This may have happened to you, your spouse, or someone you know. The target gets a telephone call from someone claiming to be with Microsoft Technical Support, or Google, Gmail, AOL, or Yahoo Security. They could say they're with anyone, as long as it's a respectable company that their victim has heard of.

The message from the scammer is not always the same, but it's usually something along the lines of, "We've been monitoring your computer, and we've detected that it is infected (or is not working properly for another reason). Can I log into your computer and fix it for free (or for a very reasonable price)?"

When you agree, they send you to a website where you download a small program that allows them to access your computer.

Once they're in, they could make your computer a bot, or a slave computer to do their mass spamming or push malware on other computers. They could run a program on your computer that extracts and copies all the passwords you have saved in your web browser, or all the documents from your hard drive. Or they might just tell you that the condition of your computer is much worse than they thought, and it’s going to cost you $300, or $400, or $800 to fix it. I’ve even seen some of these con artists download and install malware on the computer, and then tell the victim that the repair is going to cost more because there’s so much malware!

Whatever tricks they try to pull on you, like telling you that your Microsoft software is expired and needs to be renewed (for a hefty fee, of course), or telling you the innocent logs in your Event Viewer mean that your computer has been hacked, that’s all they are: tricks. They’re trying to trick you into giving them a lot of money to fix few if any problems. Even worse, once they have your credit card or bank information, they can steal all your money with bogus charges.

Here’s the bottom line: none of those big tech companies will EVER call you, or email you, or pop some garbage onto your screen. Even if that did happen, you would be much better off to tell the caller, for example, “Thank you! I’ll take the computer to my local repair shop immediately” and hang up.

 Your local technician is almost always more honest, reasonably priced, and trustworthy than some anonymous voice on the other end of the line. After all, that person calling you could be in Nigeria or Romania, and the local tech’s right down the street. You know your local PC repair shop wants you to be happy with your service, so you’ll tell all your friends and give the shop a good review on social media. The scammers don’t care – they just want your money. So, unless you know and trust someone, don’t let them log into your computer, and save yourself a lot of heartache!

Weird warning message: "Virus Detected - Call Tech Support"

Weird warning message: "Virus Detected - Call Tech Support"

In Conclusion

As I was writing this post, I thought of even more steps you can take to protect yourself against computer scammers, like not opening any unknown email attachments (without scanning them) and not clicking on any “One Weird Trick” Facebook Ads. I guess these three will just have to be a good basis for making yourself safer online, and I’ll have to continue this with “Three MORE Easy Steps to Protect Yourself from Computer Scammers” in the future. I don't think there will ever be a shortage of new scams to protect yourself against.

Please use our contact form below to email me with any questions you have about this or any other computer-related topic. If I don’t know the answer, I guarantee I can help you find it!

Lisa Hendricks

Lead Technician

Mighty IT Computer Repair & Training

New and exciting methods of stealing from innocent computer users

New and exciting methods of stealing from innocent computer users

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