The Woodward News

May 1, 2013

Computer help scam popping up locally

Johnny McMahan
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — In today's world, scammers can come at you from any direction.

Tony Haskins discovered that on Sunday when he received a call from a man saying he was with Microsoft and they had "noticed my computer was having problems and would like to help me fix them," he said.

Haskins, the IT director at High Plains Technology Center, recognized the call as a scam immediately.

"I told him that Microsoft doesn't call and solicit information from anyone," Haskins said. "He then immediately changed his story, telling me that the hardware warranty on my computer had recently expired and I was at risk to lose my data."

That didn’t work for the scam artist either as Haskins had built his computer from scratch so there wasn't a hardware warranty. He then informed the man that, "I had been in the IT industry for over 20 years and I knew he was trying to scam me and then I hung up on him."

But Haskins was still worried that someone else might get a similar call.

And, sure enough, it happened to a family member who was at least partially caught by the scam, but not all the way.

"Fortunately, they called me before it went too far and they did not give them (caller) any bank account or credit card information," Haskins said.

The family member, however, had been sent to a website to install a piece of software that Haskins said "proceeded to scan the computer and inform the user that their computer was infected with thousands of viruses and other nasty computer bugs."

Haskins told the family member to turn the computer off and he would come and get it and clean up the software. He also directed the family member under no circumstance to use the computer to access bank accounts for any password protected websites until it had been cleaned up.

With the possibility that similar calls are happening in the community and can lead to the scammers being able to monitor your activity and possibly capture usernames or passwords to access bank accounts and other sensitive information, Haskins is offering some tips to ward off a potential scam.

• First and foremost always have up to date anti-virus software.  Most of the time this involves an annual fee for the update service.  There are some free anti-virus applications available but in most cases they require a little more diligence to make sure they are always up-to-date.  It is also important that your anti-virus include some level of Anti Spyware, and Anti-Malware protection.  Most retail Internet protection suites do, but again some of the free one do not.

• Keep your Anti-Virus, Anti-Malware, Anti-Spyware software up to date, and monitor that it is updating.

• Protect your online Identity with complex passwords.  This means to not use common names, addresses, phone numbers, etc.  It is best if you password is a random mix of upper and lower case characters, numbers, and even special characters.

• Never allow banking, or credit card sites to store your login.  It is always best if you login each time.  In my opinion it is a best practice to not use automatic logins on any website that requires a username and password, this includes social media sites.

• Use multiple passwords for online accounts.  If you use the same password for all online accounts and it is compromised, all of your accounts are compromised.

• Monitor your accounts.  Bank Accounts, credit card accounts, even social media sites.  If there is suspicious activity, immediately change your passwords and contact the institution.

• Learn as much as possible about your computer.  Know what Anti-Virus software you are running and when it expires.  That way when you get a warning that your computer might be infected you can determine if it is coming from your anti-virus software or a rogue anti-virus scam that is trying to take you hard earned money.

• Be careful where you go on the internet.  Pay attention to the addresses you visit, make sure if you are shopping on Amazon.com for example that the address is the browser address bar an amazon.com address.

• Be careful of opening emails from people you do not know.  But even emails from people you know can be infected, either from an infection on their computer or a virus that uses spoofing techniques.  Emails that originate from an unknown address may appear to have been sent by a friend or family member.

• Maintain a good relationship with a local computer professional and if you suspect your computer has been compromised, cease all online activity and have a professional check your computer.  Don’t wait!

• Always be suspicions of unsolicited phone calls, & emails offering to help you with your computer or anything else for that matter.  If you are unsure, get professional advice before taking any steps.

• If you see a message that is suspicious do not click on any part of the message.  Save any open work, (if possible) and shut your computer off.  After restarting your computer if the message re-appears contact a computer professional.

•     And last but certainly not least.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Also, if you feel you might be talking to a scam artist, you can also call local law enforcement and make a report.