Watchdog: Beware of unsolicited computer help calls
May 5, 2014 at 12:05 a.m.
Microsoft surveyed 7,000 computer users in the U.K, Ireland, the U.S. and Canada. It found that 15 percent of people had received a call from scammers.
Of those who received a call, 22 percent, or 3 percent of the total survey sample, followed the scammer's instructions, either setting up remote access to their computer or providing credit card information.
Seventy-nine percent of those deceived suffered financially. Fifty-three experienced subsequent computer problems.
Victims in all four countries reported scammers stole an average of $872. In the U.S., they shelled out about $4,800 to repair their computers afterward.
A man from New York called Joy Platte's house last week, and the conversation ended up costing her $399.
The man claimed to be a Microsoft employee and wanted to rid her computer of viruses.
He instructed Platte to rig her computer so he could access it remotely.
"I kept telling him, 'I don't feel good about this. How do I know who you are?'" said Platte, 72, of Port Lavaca. "He said, 'Ma'am, I'm just trying to help you.'"
Platte's story is not unheard of because there have been reports of scammers from Russia and Nigeria attempting the same scams.
In fact, Crossroads computer repairmen say people find themselves in this trap because they are intimidated by technology.
"It's just like if someone came to your house to fix a water leak when you know you don't have a water leak, and you allow them inside anyway," said David Gibson.
Gibson has owned his Victoria computer repair shop for 13 years.
People panic when they hear "virus" and frantically hop online to allow a service to clean their computer remotely, but that's risky because too often the stranger's connection to your hardware never goes away, he said.
To turn the remote access off, you have to uninstall whatever download the service asked you to click on, which most people don't know how to do, he said.
"You never know who is on the other end of the line, so it's always better to just have someone look at it in person," Gibson said.
Ron Reyna, owner of Integrated Computer Solutions, however, recommends installing an anti-virus program before browsing the web.
He's prefers Norton, which costs between $60 to $80 depending on which version you get. It's available online or in brick-and-mortar shops like his.
Anti-virus programs continually scan your computer and issue warnings if you try to click on an item that'll give your computer a virus or malware, the latter of which are like little data miners tracking your search habits.
"There are groups out there that want to hijack your computer and hold it for ransom. They say, 'Call us, and we'll fix it for $50.' If you pay, it might be fixed for a while, but soon, there will be more viruses," Reyna said.
"You will never receive a legitimate call from Microsoft or our partners to charge you for computer fixes, and Microsoft will never contact a consumer and ask for their credit card number to charge them for a service they don't need," said Don McLean, a company spokesman.
Platte hung up on the New York man and called Microsoft.
The company found the man installed thousands of viruses and some malware on her computer, she said.
Platte also immediately informed her bank of the breach in case her information was compromised.
"I'm too trusting, and so is everybody else out there. That's the problem," Platte said.