Dealing With Fake Error Messages

When a stranger calls your house and tells you that your computer has a problem – Hang Up!

Or, if your computer screen suddenly fills with a “security warning” do the computer equivalent of hanging up – reboot the computer. (Don’t click on the warning window, and don’t call the telephone number!)

Typical fake error window.

These are 100% fake security messages, meant not to be helpful, but to get access to your computer and your private information – and get your money and your credit card info while they’re at it. The phone calls and the fake warning messages happen to users of Windows computers and Macs, and there have also been reports of similar attempts on all sorts of smart phones.

The fake phone calls are really just random robo calls, but they work because most households do have at least one computer. The callers don’t really know what you have, and they don’t really care. They just want scare you into giving them your information.

The fake error messages not only take over your computer screen, but they also start talking (more like yelling) through the computer speakers. The voice warns the user to not turn off their computers, but to call a phone number to get assistance.

It all seems very serious, and it may even sound threatening, but IT IS A FAKE. Hang up the phone, and don’t follow instructions on the screen – instead, do the opposite and Turn Off Your Computer.

Do not click on the message or any of its links, and do not call the number provided on the pop up message. They will want money – by credit card – and they will want to connect to your computer remotely in order to “repair” it.

Just turn it off, and then reboot.

If you can’t get to the normal power-down link on your computer screen, then press and hold the power button for 5 full seconds, until all the lights go off on your computer.

Likewise, on smart phones: Hold down the power button until the phone powers down or gives you an on-screen button to power down completely.

Reboot your computer after that. If your computer asks if it should reboot normally, choose “yes, startup normally.” There’s a good chance that the fake problem warning will be gone, just by doing this shutdown and reboot.

If the fake message does not come back, this would be a good time to manually start your antivirus program and run a “full scan” to look for malware that might have been installed when this faker popped up.

If the problem isn’t gone, but comes back right away, then you’ll need to boot into a “safe” mode for your computer and do two things:

  1. Check the startup settings for your computer and disable that you don’t recognize.(If you accidentally turn off a feature that you need, you’ll be able to re-enable it later.)

  2. Reboot to make sure that the problem faker is gone.

Then run a full scan with your antivirus program.

Hoping, as always, that this is all quite clear and useful; but if I can help, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Mike Pepper, The Computer Guy, has been providing software and hardware support in New York and Connecticut for more than 35 years. He can be reached at: