Spotting Scams Before You Are a Victim

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Just about every week I get a call from someone claiming to be from “Microsoft” or “Windows” or “Windows Services.”  The caller ID always says something believable like “Dave Ross” with a New York phone number.  But when I pick up it is always the same, someone from India telling me my computer has been sending out error messages and I need to fix it before it damages my computer.  As soon as I hear that, depending on my mood, I will either say something very unpleasant and hang up, or, if I’m feeling particularly malevolent, I will make them think I am playing along, allow them to think I’m following their instructions, and then unleash a stream of invective that makes me feel better.  Every so often I can get one of these bozos sufficiently rattled that they will try to call me back just to curse at me.  Unfortunately there’s a much darker side to this.  In some cases they will remotely lock up your computer and hold it for ransom.  In other cases, they will screw it up and try to get you to pay for the fix.  Our friends at Bask, an online tech support firm, have been doing a series of instructive pieces on how to avoid these scams, or in a worst case scenario, how to recover from them.  Here’s one piece that we think is worth a look:

by Karla Alice Renée, Content Manager for Bask.com.

baskIt can happen to anyone. Regardless of age, gender, or level of tech know-how, you could find yourself tangled in the sticky Web of online scams.

Online scams are a pervasive nuisance. Scammers have tested and refined their techniques to prey on the honest and vulnerable. Some tactics hail from the early days of the Internet, like copycat websites and pop-ups. Others have gotten more sophisticated, using data mining to contact you and impersonate brands you trust. McAfee, Norton, Microsoft, and yes, even Bask have all been impersonated to unsuspecting computer owners.

Fake Website iTOK Scam
Example of a Copy Cat website – this duplicated the BASK site with a different name.

So how do you guard yourself — your data, your finances, your family, your identity — against being compromised? What do you need to know to be protected? We put together this guide to help you recognize and avoid scams. But first, this example:

It Happened to Me: Gwynne’s Story

Gwynne is a mother and grandmother in her 60s. When she’s not at choir practice or teaching piano, she serves as an advisor for a local philanthropic group. Her daughter works for us here at Bask. That’s why, when Gwynne got an anonymous phone call last month from someone claiming to represent ‘iTOK,’ (the prior name of Bask) she knew something was amiss.

“It was a real surprise,” she said. “It did not show up on my caller ID, except for ‘Austin, TX.’ I thought it might be my daughter who lives in Austin, so I answered the call.”

Gwynne described the caller as having ‘a foreign accent,’ but that didn’t seem unusual for Texas. At first, she thought the call might have merit, based on previous support she’d gotten for her computer.

“When I first got my computer, an Acer, it came with a free month of antivirus. After that expired, I started getting malware right away. So I thought I’d better upgrade to a full antivirus. I got it for a year, and they cleaned out the malware, installed my printer, got it all set up remotely.”

“So I knew I had this service, and I thought ‘Okay, they must be calling me.’ But then he said ‘iTOK’, which I knew wasn’t right because you guys are Bask now. Still I thought maybe they were a partner or something, so I heard them out.”

She noticed that the caller said she was ‘an older customer.’ This might seem irrelevant, but it’s common for scammers to target older computer users, hoping they’re not tech-savvy enough to recognize the scam.

“He said he needed to run a check on my computer,” she continued. “I went to the website that he carefully spelled out for me. Then he said to press the download button. But I’m not that stupid, and I’m not that gullible! So I said I’m sorry, but I’m not going to download anything you tell me to — goodbye.”

Gwynne was smart to hang up on the caller. Despite their best efforts, she wasn’t fooled. However, she also had a leg-up on many people who receive these calls, because of where her daughter works. Luckily, there are some red flags that you can pick out during any suspicious phone call.

Pay Attention to these Red Flags

So what red flags appeared in the call?

  • Cold-call: Gwynne hadn’t requested any service on her computer. Bask never cold-calls its members; we schedule TuneUps ahead of time and respond to any work requests you submit.
  • Hidden Caller ID: Not always an indication that something shady is going on, but combined with other factors, it could be.
  • Claimed to represent iTOK: But he didn’t know that we had changed our name to Bask (or perhaps was taking advantage of that fact to avoid trademark infringement).
  • Used an urgent or hurried tone: Technology Advisors should always be patient and kind, not stress-inducing or pushy.
  • Strange website: Gwynne did not recognize the website, and it did not start with bask.com.
  • Unfamiliar download: Never proceed with a suspicious or untrustworthy download.

Fake "Blue Screen of Death"

[An example of a strange website. This one is trying to emulate the infamous “Blue Screen of Death” for Windows users.]

What Scammers Are After

Scammers are after very specific information, and that information leads them to one thing — your money. Be on guard if a cold-caller asks for the following:

  • Access to your computer: If a scammer gains access to your computer through a malware program, they can spy on your online activity and copy your personal data.
  • Credit card details: If a scammer gets your credit card details, they can commit financial fraud and identity theft.

Tech Support Scam Popup

[An example of a pop-up. This pop-up is trying to persuade the user to call in for tech support.]

What makes this difficult is that real tech support companies will ask for these things also. We need remote access to work on your computer, and we need credit card info to set up memberships and work requests. That’s why it’s incredibly important to make sure you’re talking to the right people.

What to Do During a Scam Call

If you are ever worried that a caller isn’t who they say they are:

  1. Say NO to any activity you aren’t comfortable with.
  2. Hang up immediately.
  3. Call your tech support company of choice to verify any activity on your account.

Think of it this way — we would much rather you hang up on us accidentally than be taken advantage of by a pushy scammer. Don’t worry, we won’t get offended. Your safety and comfort are our first priority.

Scam calls can be an intimidating and scary experience, but knowledge is power. With these guidelines in mind, you can thwart attackers who assume you have no support structure in place.

And if you are a victim, we have advice on how to recover here.

About the author:

Karla Alice Renée is the Content Manager for Bask.com.  She blogs about seniors and technology, data backup, digital threats and other tech news.  In her spare time, she loves playing with her nephew, trying out new tech devices, and strolling through every museum in town.

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