GEEKNOTE: Decisions, Decisions

GEEKNOTE:  I've got several possible topics for this week's GEEKNOTE, including an update on companies that are too big to have a clue, the hazards of installing apps on your smart phone without reading the fine print, the imminent demise of Windows XP, and my political plans for 2014, but I think I'll write instead about something that I've been doing a slow burn over for the last couple of weeks:  Online rip-off artists.

For the last couple of months, we've seen a series of instances where someone has had their email credentials stolen and their email has been used to send out pharmaceutical spam messages.  The messages originate from all over the world and the one common thread seems to be the use of free anti-virus software (eg. Microsoft Security Essentials).

Two weeks ago, we picked up on another of these incidents with one of the folks we have provided with email service for years.  We immediately blocked the email and contacted the customer.  This is where things got interesting.  This particular customer is in his 80's.  He got a message several weeks ago that his machine needed service and he was directed to a company in the Miami area who proceeded to sell him a $600 support package that included an anti-virus product of dubious reputation.  Notwithstanding the fact that the support package they talked him into cost more than his computer is probably worth,  his machine was still compromised and his email credentials were stolen.

After hearing his story, I came to the conclusion that his referral to the Miami company didn't pass the sniff test.

We cleaned up his machine, installed real AV software, and set him up so that we could help him if he had any problems in the future.  The Miami company called him a day or two later to tell him that his machine needed more service from them.  He advised them that he had found someone locally and didn't need their help.  Their concern immediately turned to whether or not he was going to demand a refund for what he had already paid them.

This scenario has played out several times over the past year.  Someone sees a "Microsoft" message pop up on their screen warning them that their computer is infected or needs some sort of fix.  Alternately, they get a call from "Microsoft" telling them that their computer has a problem and offering to check it out if they let "Microsoft" take control of their machine.  If they fall for the scam, the caller will generate a report that claims to show all sorts of problems and offer to fix everything for $200 or more... $600 in the case of my 80 something year old customer.

This sort of thing makes my blood boil.  I've seen far too many people fall for these scams.

Please protect yourself.  Microsoft absolutely NEVER calls to inform you about problems with your computer.  Popup warning messages are frequently bogus.  If a popup message isn't from your AV program, ignore it.  Whatever you do, do NOT allow some stranger who calls you on the phone take remote control of your computer. 

Finally, please avoid installing extra toolbars on your computer.  At least one of these also installs a custom search home page that includes very prominent bogus warning messages about supposed computer problems.  If you click on one of these warning messages, you will be directed to one of the scammers, who will be happy to separate you from your money.

We'd love for you to consider us if you need help with your computer.  We offer fixed price contracts or you can pay us based on the time we spend on your machine.   We have a local office and you know where to find us.  

If you've got a parent that needs to have someone to call if they see anything odd on their computer, we can help.  We've got a fair number of seniors who feel free to call us whenever they have a question about their computer.  We'll pop in, identify whether or not there really is a problem, and pop out, often in just 3 or 4 minutes.  Most of the time, it's just an update that needs to be accepted, but occasionally, it's something malicious that we can nip in the bud.

Please be safe this coming week and New Years Eve.  We're planning on reviewing how well our predictions last year worked out and making some predictions for the new year in next week's GEEKNOTE.

Rob Marlowe, Senior Geek
Gulfcoast Networking, Inc.

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