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Deemable Tech

Ask Deemable Tech: Are Scam Artists Calling Me?

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Frank asks, "The other day I got a phone a call from someone who claimed to be from Microsoft. He told me my antivirus software was out of a date, and that they would update it for me for free. He wanted me to go to a website and download a program that would let him control my computer so he could update it. I decided to wait until I heard back from you to see if this was legit or not. What do you think?"

There’s no question about it, Frank, this is a scam. The cost of having people at Microsoft call all of their users about their antivirus software would be astronomical. Plus, how would they have gotten your phone number in the first place? You made the right choice to not believe them. Unfortunately, many other people will be the victims of these types of scam artists.

If they had gotten control of your computer, they would have installed software to turn it into a spam sending machine. Your computer would have started cranking out thousands of emails trying to convince people to buy herbal supplements and who knows what else. And, of course, the “Prince of Nigeria” probably would have used it to send out some “important” emails. These scammers could have even used the information on your computer to steal your identity.

What should you do if you mistakenly do let someone have control of your computer, and you suspect them of not being who they say they are? The first thing you would need to do is unplug your computer from the Internet. Pull the cord out of the wall; turn off your Wi-Fi; do whatever it takes.

The next step would be to format your hard drive and reinstall Windows. You could try to uninstall programs and run your antivirus software, but the best bet would be to wipe it and start with a clean slate. This may sound pretty severe, but remember: these are criminals who, at the very least, are using your computer to send spam.

There’s a possibility that these scam artists may call you back after you’ve reinstalled Windows. You have shut off their money-making spam machine, and they’ll probably be upset about it. They might even threaten you to get you to turn it back on. Depending on what they have done, we would recommend contacting your Internet service provider and/or the police.

We should clarify that if you called Microsoft or a local IT company, and they needed access to your computer to help you with a problem that you called them about, you should be able to trust them. But if you receive an unsolicited call like this, you have no reason to believe that the person on the phone is actually who they say they are. 

For more great tech ad?vice, download the Deemable Tech app (for iPhone and Android), and listen to Deemable Tech's full length podcast at Deemable.com. You can also follow them on Twitter @Deemable.