Cybercriminals are hard at work, finding ways to get access to your computer and all your information. And these thieves have become really good at convincing you that you need their help to fix a problem that doesn't really exist.
They are using the cover of "tech support." Many of them claim to be from Microsoft. Here's how they find potential victims, and why it's so easy to be fooled.
Justin Evert was on his computer a few weeks ago when a warning popped up. It said if Justin closed out the window his computer would lock up. The message has a number to call "immediately," and also warned "your computer has alerted us it's been infected with a suspicious activity." It also claimed Justin's information was being stolen.
At first he tried to close out the warning. "It just kept coming back, coming back. More windows popped up." That jammed up his computer. So he called the number. Justin was told they could fix the problem. He agreed to give the man on the other end of the line remote access to his computer. "He was going on screens that I've never seen before," Justin told us. One of those showed error messages.
The man offered to get Justin's computer working again, for a price. Justin said, "they tried their darndest to get my credit card information." He said no, but many other consumers are not as cautious.
Kevin Bong is an online security and compliance expert with Sikich, out of Brookfield. "I think a lot of people fall for it, because they're really good." Bong says these cybercriminals are guiding people to the computer's event log, a place most people wouldn't normally go.
Bong told us, "there's always going to be error messages. That it couldn't talk to the network for a brief time, that the disc had a little hiccup. Those are normal things."
But the thieves tell you it needs to be fixed. One of the worst things you can do is give them access to your computer. Bong warned, "so the next time you make a credit card purchase, you type in your credit card number or you type in passwords for PayPal or iTunes, they're gonna steal that."
Some of these attempts also start with a phone call. They convince people their computer has a problem. Then guide them to a website and have them download software, which gives the thieves access to that computer.
These tech support imposters may also try to get you to buy fake anti-virus software, bill you for phony services or direct you to a fraudulent website and ask you to enter a credit card or personal information.
Justin's computer worked for a while but then there were more pop-ups and warnings. What he still doesn't know is if his personal information was stolen, and he's worried. "I'm probably going to end up changing my bank account, everything."
When Justin called the "tech support" number he got several different answers about what company he was dealing with. At one point he was told Microsoft.
The actual company wants to remind people it doesn't call or email about technical issues. Microsoft has been tracking these crimes and wants to hear from consumers. So far 180,000 customers around the world say they've been exposed to this scam.
How to file a complaint:
Tips to stay safe while online
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