It seems like just when you think you’ve got things figured out, the scammers go and change the rules!

An alarming trend lately in computer scams is the growing practice of actual 800 support numbers connecting you to people overseas intent on scamming you out of your money rather than to qualified support people who even work for the company that you are calling.

What I mean is I am seeing a lot more instances of people having problem with a product or service and then calling the 800 # for that company that is listed on their website or on their bill or whatever but instead of getting somebody that works for that company, they get someone in India or the Philippines who immediately start steering the caller into the old “Oh, your computer has been hacked and is infected with malware….” Speech.

No, it hasn’t been hacked, no it isn’t infected with malware and no, he doesn’t work for XYZ company! If a call ever goes in this direction, hang up or you are about to get scammed.

One on my callers was relating to me an incident where he was having a problem getting his video streaming device to connect to his wifi. Now this is one of those little things that plug into your TV – it had nothing to do with his computer whatsoever but that seemed to be lost on the guy on the other end of the phone who immediately began insisting that his computer was hacked and loaded with malware and they would need to clean it before that could continue.

It used to be a pretty good rule of thumb that if you made the call, you were safe. For instance, if you get an email “from the bank” telling you your account has a problem, you call the bank yourself – you don’t deal with it over email. Calling them yourself carries a good faith assumption that the number you are calling is actually going to get you to the company you are trying to call rather than scammers. It makes it feel safer to disclose private non public information. When a big company puts an 800 support number on their website that leads to one of these scammers it makes it that much easier to fall prey.

Another trend that has been making the rounds on the internet is the “tainted link” that brings you to a fake blue screen error with a bunch of technical mumbo jumbo and an 800 number to call. The page tries to tell you your machine has suffered from a critical error or some such but the big giveaway is the 800 number – no legitimate Windows or Blue Screen Error ever ever ever displays a phone number!

If one day you are surfing the web, maybe checking email and suddenly your browser shows an alarming error message, you can’t click out of it, you can’t close it and there is a phone number to call to get it fixed, don’t fall for it! If you do they will attempt to separate you from as much money as they can talk you out of.

“But what’s a guy to do? You can’t click out, you can’t close it, the message says bad things will happen if you turn it off, so how do you get out of it when your machine gets stuck like this?”

Well first, remember the message itself is a scam. That means you can’t trust anything in the message so it’s unlikely anything bad will happen if you reboot. Rebooting will shut everything down and reset everything (essentially) and that should break you out of that loop but it doesn’t have to be that sloppy. You can use the task manager to “kill” the stuck window can that should break you out of the loop and allow you to regain control of the machine. To launch task manager, “right click” on the task bar at the bottom of your Windows desktop and then left click “Task Manager” in the little pop up window. Then, in Task Manager, find the browser window in the list of running applications, highlight it and click the “End Task” button. You can usually find the right item in the list of running applications because it will have the offending webpage’s name listed next to your browser’s icon. Once you end the task you should see the browser window finally close and you can now reboot gracefully – with a normal shut down and restart.

Sean McCarthy fixes computers. He can be reached at 888-752-9049 or (No Hyphens!)

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