Eva writes, "Recently I called what I thought was an HP support number with a printer problem. In fact, the number connected me to a scammer! He ran a program to scan my computer and then claimed I had been hacked. I realized something was off when he asked me for $350 to fix it, so I hung up. I am worried that my computer is now at risk. Help!"
Eva, we are incredibly glad you realized what was happening before you handed that guy $350. Calling the real HP support line will of course cost you nothing. Unfortunately, scam artists have flooded Google’s search results so that if you searched for “help with HP printers,” for instance, you would see a bunch of sites that claim to be HP’s official support page but aren’t. The one and only HP tech support website is support.hp.com. If you forget that, the real website address can always be found in the manual that came with your printer.
Some people have reported receiving unsolicited phone calls from people claiming to be HP support. HP is not going to call you unless you called them first! You can call HP directly at 1-800-HP-INVENT to confirm the identity of anyone claiming to be from tech support.
Most of these scammers are out to make money, Eva, but some of them may really be up to no good and could try to hack your computer. That’s why we’re concerned about the fact that he apparently gained access to your machine. We can’t know for sure how much he was able to do, but if he was able to install and run programs all bets are off. He might have installed some sort of key-logger which is sending everything you do on the computer to hackers, or a back door which will allow him to access your computer anytime he wants to.
And here’s the really bad news: anti-virus software probably won’t help you, because someone logged into your computer could easily disable it. The only one surefire way to make sure your computer is safe to reset it to its factory defaults. The documentation that came with your computer will tell you how to perform a reset to factory default, or you can look it up online. You will want to make sure you get any important photos or documents off of your computer before doing this.
The factory reset will make sure the computer itself is clean, but you also need to protect your personal data online and change all of the passwords as well. Assume that all of your important accounts (email, bank accounts, Facebook, etc.) are at risk whether you’ve logged into them recently or not.