My phone was ringing off the hook one recent Saturday, three calls in just a few hours from different people claiming to be from Microsoft or other software companies, all with the same alarming news: A virus had been spotted on my computer. My machine would be crippled unless I followed their advice and downloaded a program to fix the problem.
The Computer Repair Scam has returned. If my repeated treks to the phone aren't evidence enough, consider recent warnings — from the Better Business Bureau, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and others — about the very real trouble that can result.
The caller may press you to buy a particular "security" program or try to steer you to a website for the "necessary repair." Either way, the intent is to trick you into downloading software that gives these crooks remote access to your computer — and everything stored on it. That can compromise your bank and credit card accounts, among other things.
In the past, a company calling itself Support on Click was scamming folks with phony alerts. Now others are eager to take its place.
In truth, Microsoft does not make calls or send e-mail warnings of an infection in a particular computer. Nor do makers of antivirus software, another false identity that these scammers sometimes use.
When real threats are detected, the companies send software updates en masse over the Internet telling users to strengthen the defenses on their computers. If your computer has a virus, the antivirus software that you've installed on your machine is designed to warn you and remove the virus.
Your best bet if you get one of these calls? Do what I did. Hang up — without following the caller's instructions, which may also include providing your user name and password details. And if the scammers approach you with an e-mail, just delete it.
If you think you've already fallen for this gimmick, you may need a reputable local computer repair company to remove any program that the hackers tricked you into installing. Ask a computer-savvy friend or relative to recommend one.
Have a look at our Scam Alert archive for past warnings about the con artists who too often seek to part Americans from their hard-earned money. If you don’t find your answer there, send a query. Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.