Common online scams and how to avoid them


Mar 30, 2021

The internet has become an essential tool for most of us, both for personal and professional use. Unfortunately, it can also be a treacherous road to travel. Knowing how to spot suspicious emails and other offers can help protect you from those stealing money and personal information. Recently,  many “tech support” scams have been spotted, appearing as pop-up warnings or emails warning of viruses that have taken over your computer. If you want to know more about what to avoid on the internet, keep reading.

Pop-up warnings

Have you ever clicked on a link and gotten a pop-up that says something along the lines of “threats detected” or “virus detected”? These are most common on the Windows operating system and sometimes Android and iOS devices, and they are designed to scare the user into thinking their device is compromised when it is not.

But what do these scammers want from you? In short, they’re typically on the hunt for money or personal information. 

With these particular scams, there will usually be a number that you are supposed to call, which will then result in you going through a song and dance trying to “fix” something that isn’t there. They’ll ask you to pay for their help, either by paying for malicious software and/or remotely taking over your computer. 

Authentic threat warnings will warn you before you enter malicious territory. Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge do a good job of this, and Windows 10 has built-in antivirus detection to warn you of any incoming threats. Luckily, virus protection has improved dramatically over the last several years. 

Furthermore, these threats typically appear unprofessional. Microsoft or any other massive company will never toss shaking messages, sirens, or anything else overboard at you, as those notifications are designed to cause panic. Here is an excellent example of how these scams play out.

Unsolicited calls and emails

Legitimate organizations will never contact you about  a “problem” with your computer. Instead, the built-in defender software on your PC is usually enough to tell you if there are any threats.

If you want to confirm that there is an existing threat and remove it, you can run the built-in virus scanning feature on your operating system. Backing up your data and reinstalling the operating system for a fresh start can be a last resort. 

Requesting remote access

Another potentially damaging scam is when the scammer will pretend to be someone from a major organization such as Microsoft, Apple, or any other large computer company. They will inform you that your computer has been sending them error messages regarding a virus, and say that they need remote access to resolve the problem. 

They may also try to convince you into buying unnecessary software or a bogus service to “solve” the issue. If that doesn’t work, they may then ask you for personal details such as credit card or bank information. If they continue to persist because you are refusing, they may become noticeably frustrated and abusive - another red flag.

Microsoft and other legitimate organizations do indeed have remote access support, but you usually need to reach out to them. They will not come to you. Another reason to always use a trusted source for your tech-related problems. 

Reporting tech support scams

To protect others who might not know about these and other scams, reporting them is important. Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) if you’ve experienced anything that appears to be a scam, and they will investigate your claim to protect others from experiencing the same. 

Inform others you know about these scams

Tech support scams often target those who aren’t the most computer savvy. Everyone makes mistakes, but these scams are designed to cause panic. If you have a friend or relative who frequently asks you for computer help, talk with them about staying safe online and how to spot deceivers. 

Staying safe on your email 

Never click on anything in the junk portion of your email address, unless you are sure it is legitimate. Thankfully, email programs such as Gmail and Outlook are good at filtering out the good from the bad. Also, be wary of the “promotional” tab. Most retailers, restaurants and streaming services are legitimately marketing their products to you, but if you get an email stating something like “You’ve been selected for a free iPad!”, be wary. In short, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is!

How widespread are tech support scams?

Microsoft has estimated that tech support scams trick 3.3 million people each year, totaling an annual cost of $1.5 billion with an average loss of $450 per victim

Legitimate tech support companies would never ask you for hundreds of dollars for virus protection software or the “services” they are currently providing. Scammers typically suggest that the intended victim’s computer is under attack and will eventually become unrepairable, causing them to have to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars for a new one.

Scammers are getting smarter and more and more people are being deceived into buying an expensive “repair patch” or worse, allowing the scammer access to your personal computer and information. 

What to do if you have been scammed

If you have recently fallen victim to one of these scammers, there are several things you can do:

  1. If you have given remote access or have installed any software that the scammer has suggested, run a virus scan using the operating system’s built-in antivirus tool and remove any suspicious programs and files.
  2. If you have given any money to them, call your credit card provider or bank and explain the issue. A lot of the time they will pursue this and try to give you a chargeback. This is such a common issue that financial institutions are more understanding than ever and simply just want to keep you as a customer.
  3. If a scammer has acquired sensitive information from you, file a claim with your identity theft insurance, freeze credit cards and place a fraud alert on your credit reports. It will be up to you to go to the source where the scammer has gotten your information and explain what happened.
  4. Always seek legitimate tech support from a trusted source. The software that scammers ask you to install is typically a virus and can compromise your device.

All in all, safe practices online are critical to avoid online scams. You should always be aware of who you’re giving access and information to, in order to ensure you’re as protected as possible. To learn more about ways to protect yourself and your business, reach out to a Milner Rep today.

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