The bad guys are back, ringing your phone with legitimate looking caller IDs, filling your computer screen with an alarming alert message, or masquerading as a friend sending a seasonal greeting by email. These are all bad actors with larcenous intent. Here are the rules for dealing with them:
1. When some stranger calls and tells you that your computer has a problem, hang up.
2. Don’t click links in emails. (Like, never ever.)
3. If an alarming error message pops up on your screen and demands that you don’t reboot; just reboot. Immediately.
If you get one of those calls telling you that your computer has some sort of problem, be assured that the call is a fake. The big companies like Microsoft or Apple or Dell will not proactively call you. And the FBI or IRS won’t call either. They write, or just show up.
These phone calls will be made to seem personally directed to you. That is part of the act: to increase your feeling of alarm. Ignore and hang up.
Fake Error Messages
If your computer screen suddenly fills with a “security warning” do the computer equivalent of hanging up and reboot the computer. (Don’t click on the warning window, and do not call the provided telephone number!) Sometimes there is a voice coming from your computer, sounding very authoritative and ordering you to not turn off your computer, because that would cancel them and their spiel. Ignore and reboot.
Links in Emails
It is just not safe to click links in emails. Hiding malicious links in emails is the most common way for bad actors to attack your computer. When you hear about a big corporation or government agency being “hacked” it is because entry was gained via an email attack. Unless you are 100% positive that the link is safe, just don’t click it. How can you tell if it’s safe? To do that you need to examine the URL inside the link. Note that even if a link looks like a URL in the message text, the actual link can be different. In most cases, if you hover your mouse over the link without clicking, you’ll be able to see the actual link address. Check to see that it matches, and that it goes to a legitimate site. If it checks out visually, then you can decide if you want to give it a try.
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 (845) 855-5824, or www.PawlingComputerGuy.com.