Every few months I get a call from a frantic customer who just fell victim to a type of computer virus scam known as scareware. Windows computers and Mac computers are all equally susceptible to this scam. Here is how it appears:
- You are surfing the web when all of a sudden a large screen appears, often accompanied by an audio stream, indicating that your computer has been attacked, is full of viruses, and requires your immediate action.
- Try as you might, you cannot get rid of the screen.
- The information on the screen either directs you to immediately click on a link to purchase software to remedy the situation or to call a support number
- If you purchase the software, you have just purchased more viruses, thrown away your money, and given the scammer your credit card information.
- If you call the number, you will be greeted by a very nice person who convinces you to allow them to remotely access your computer. Once they are in your computer, they will identify more issues and offer to remove them for either a one-time flat fee or an annual fee. If you agree, you have once again thrown away your money and given the scammer your credit card information. But even worse, you have given them free rein to your computer where they can steal your login information, personal files, and install even more viruses.
There are many variations of this scam (including people calling you on your telephone claiming to be from Microsoft or Dell and telling you they have detected serious issues with your computer and offering to resolve them by remotely logging in.) All of this is bogus. The scary screen is simply a web page that you were redirected to in an effort to scam you (how this is done is quite technical and beyond the scope of this blog.)
Should this happen to you, the first thing to do is to not to do anything. Do not click on any links, do not call the telephone number, and most importantly never let anyone remotely access your computer unless you know and trust them. Simply restart your computer and you will see the screen is gone and everything is normal.
Should this not be the case, or if you fall victim, there are crucial steps that you must take immediately, including changing all your passwords and restoring your computer to a time prior to the event.