New Tech Support Scam On The Rise

They claim to be Internet security watchdogs offering help with a computer virus you mistakenly downloaded. Their real intention: to get remote access to your files.

It’s the “tech support scam,” a ruse that has made headlines overseas and now is quietly targeting computer users in this country.

It starts with a phone call from someone claiming to be from a software provider such as Microsoft, Norton or McAfee, or your computer’s manufacturer. (Other callers say they represent Support on Click, a firm based in India.) You are told that your computer has a virus and may be in danger of losing all stored data, but the caller can help avoid that—if you follow his instructions.

Don’t take the bait.

What they usually try to do is get you to download software that they say will fix the virus. What that software really does is give them remote access to your computer and everything on it—your passwords, online banking accounts, everything.”

In some cases, users are directed to the website, which gives the hackers remote access to your computer, allegedly to “fix the problem.” Or they may ask you to provide your user name and password.

How are users targeted? Their names and phone numbers can be accessed from online telephone directories. Some calls may be made with an auto-dialer that calls numbers in sequence.

Be on the alert for signs of trouble:

• The warning that you have a computer virus comes to you by telephone or e-mail. If a real virus is ever detected, you’re likely to receive a security update or warning directly on your computer.

• Callers try to sell subscriptions for “computer monitoring” or “security services.” Giving hackers your credit card information creates an added danger.

• When you answer the call, you hear a ringing tone. That indicates a callback system that could result in expensive long-distance charges to you, since these posers often call from Europe or Asia.

If you believe you’ve already fallen for a phony tech support scam, contact a computer repair company to disable the hackers’ remote access. Also notify your bank and credit card companies, and monitor your statements for any unauthorized charges.

A question we’re often asked is: How often should I scan my computer with antivirus software, and can I do it on the cheap?

Experts recommend that your computer get a full scan at least once a week, but some suggest scanning every day or so. This is not as tough as it sounds, because many antivirus programs can be scheduled to automatically scan your computer and install the necessary security updates.

If for some reason you don’t subscribe to one of the major antivirus programs, there are many free scanning products, and PC World recently tested several and listed its favorites. There are also offerings by Norton and McAfee.

Whatever product you choose, be sure to read the terms and conditions to ensure you’re not installing a limited-time free trial that could later start generating unexpected costs later. You may also try calling your Internet Service provider as some provide customers with antivirus software for free.

It’s usually recommended that computer users stick with one antivirus program. Although it’s possible to install more, they may conflict with each other, actually weakening your protection. So if you go double-duty, make sure that at least one product is set to scan “on demand” and is not active all the time.

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