It often catches you off-guard: you’re surfing the internet, searching Google for interesting content, and suddenly there’s a warning message taking over most of your screen! It may look a little something like this:
We all know how easy it is for computers to get infected with viruses and malware, so nervously, you try to make it go away but it doesn’t let you close it! Or maybe you close the browser only to find yourself staring at the same screen when you open it back up. “Eek! Maybe my computer IS infected! What do I do?”
Well, first of all, take a deep breath and relax for a second. Chances are your computer is not infected, you’ve simply arrived at a bad website designed to get you to call that phone number. The last thing that you want to do is pick up the phone and dial that number. If you’re going to dial a number, dial ours! We may be able to help you get away from that page relatively easily, or determine that there’s a chance something actually is on your computer.
What happens if you do call the number on the screen? You will probably get in touch with someone in a foreign country who will gladly “help you” with your problem by having you download and install a program that gives them remote access to your computer. They will have you do certain steps which will show you parts of the operating system that you’re not familiar with. They will show you a bunch of “errors” that your computer (and every other computer on planet) has hiding in the background and try to convince you that these are critical items that need to be corrected. They will conveniently correct these errors for you, after you give them your credit card! They will often charge you hundreds of dollars for this service.
Of course, the problem is that most of the “errors” you are looking at are perfectly normal and exist on every Windows computer. What you are looking at is logs of the various activities happening in the background of the operating system, things that are purposely hidden from the casual user precisely to avoid this kind of scare! The main thing to keep in mind is that if your computer really is infected or has significant errors happening in the background, you’re going to notice other issues happening with the computer, things like extremely slow boot times, sluggish operation, and random slowdowns.
There’s another variation on this scam, the phony “blue screen” that Windows users
are so familiar with. It will often look like this:
One thing to keep in mind is that real blue screen errors do not have phone numbers in them. If you see a phone number, you can be 100% sure that the screen you are looking at is bogus. Another thing to keep in mind is that the blue screen process halts all operation of the computer. The only way to do anything with a computer stuck on a blue screen is to turn the power off. Notice, too, in the screen shot above that the web browser window is still clearly visible at the top of the screen. That means that not only is the computer still running, but you are looking at a web page! Remember, if you can move your mouse around or have any functionality of the computer whatsoever, you are NOT looking at a real blue screen error message!
So what do you do if you arrive at one of these pages? First, DO NOT call the number! These scam pages are designed to scare you into calling that number. They want you to call, so that they can get onto your computer, and then scare you further into giving them money, and worst of all, they won’t do anything to resolve any actual problems your computer might have. In fact, if you refuse to pay them once they’ve gotten on your computer, they can put a password on it that cannot be easily removed through normal means. So whatever you do, DON’T call and DON’T give them access to your computer!
The second thing to do is call someone you trust, and hopefully that someone is Computer Renaissance. We’re here and we’re local; you can come to our store and see us in person. By calling us we can usually reassure you that, no, you’re not infected, and give you a couple of quick tips to try to get you away from that scam screen within minutes, at no cost. If it does happen to be something more serious, we can quickly give you the best advice to protect your computer and its data. We may recommend that you bring it in for us to give it a thorough look to make sure that there aren’t real issues that need addressing. We’re here to take care of the people that the scammers take advantage of.
So how did you arrive at a scam web page anyway? Well, it’s probably easier than you think. When you’re searching Google (or other search engines) for various things, what you’ll get sometimes are advertisements that look very similar to legitimate web pages. Often the advertisements shown really are legitimate pages and are related to your search, so they’ll actually take you to the page that you are looking for. However, sometimes they’re actually malware or scare websites in disguise.
In the screenshot above, what looks like a legitimate link to a Youtube channel is actually a scam screen website! If you click on it, you won’t go to Youtube like you think, even though the URL looks legitimate. Sometimes these kinds of links are even hidden in advertisements on legitimate websites. Always be weary of clicking on advertisements, because even if you’re on a safe page, the site owner may have little or no control over what advertisements get placed on their site. Whoever pays the most money gets the most ads, so you can be sure that these scams are quite a lucrative business!
The final scam that we want you to be aware of is the phone scam. This scam is basically the same as the two above, with a slight twist: they call you pretending to be some kind of Microsoft tech support. The script is basically the same, though, they want you to let them onto your computer by telling you that they’ve received information that your computer is sending them information about being infected, or something to that effect. Of course, yet again they’re just attempting to gain access to your computer to scare you into giving them money.
How did they know you had a computer? How did they know that you were using it when they called? They didn’t know any of that. They just dialed you at random and made the assumption that you, like most people in the US, have at least one computer running Windows. And they try to sound authoritative and tell you that they’re from Microsoft or associated with Microsoft so that you’ll do whatever they ask of you. Keep in mind that Microsoft NEVER calls customers directly out of the blue.
Remember, they have no prior knowledge about you or your computer. They dialed you randomly. Their goal is to gain access to your computer and your credit card. Everything they say is a lie regardless of how legitimate they sound. Don’t fall victim to phone scams in any form! If you’re not sure, just give us a call and we’ll tell you exactly what is going on.
If this happens to you and you do not know what to do, we can help. Call us at (410) 836.0649.