Learn Computers Series: How To Avoid Online Scams

No the prince of Nigeria does not need your help to restore his crown. Bill Gates will not give you $300 for forwarding an email. And that cheap unknown name in online tech support asking you for complete control of your PC and install all sorts of software while telling you that you have hundreds of infections? They are lying.

Staying safe online is hard. No question about it. Scammers, spammers and malware/viruses appear to be at every turn. However the web doesn’t have to be such a scary place. With some simple techniques you can stop most of these online threats dead in their tracks.

Contact The Vendor Or Trusted Names

One of the most recent home calls I made for computer repair was to inspect a PC that was ‘infected’ according to an online tech support who was attempting to help set up a wireless router. They had the user install custom software to let them into the machine via remote connection and then the scammers installed a ton of software to first check to see ‘if the issue was due to viruses’.  Viruses would not affect being able to set up a router, so this was bogus and luckily the user realized this before paying the $130 they requested. Actually it was the request for immediate payment that tipped them off. Promptly they uninstalled all the software they just installed for the call and closed out all open windows. They called me over to look at it to ensure that nothing bad was installed. I ran some tests and everything was clean. A typical scareware install to trick you into thinking your infected and must pay them money to remove the threat that doesn’t exist.

So, how do you avoid this happening to you? Simple, only contact the vendor for support.  If they are unable to help or cost too much find a local shop or service provider. Also don’t forget to check for reviews to ensure they provide quality service.

Too Good To Be True?

Receive an email that sounds like an easy way to make money or get an iPad for 2$? Assume it’s a lie and a scam. If things seem to easy or good to be true they most likely are. Also do not forward emails if they ask you too.  Scammers routinely harvest these email lists to get new emails to send targeted attacks or sell online.

My bank/email/credit card company want’s my data updated/confirmed for X reason (Updates/Extra Space/Keep Account)

No, they do NOT need you to do this through email or through a link in an email. If they do need you to, open a web browser and navigate to the service portal of your online account manually. If once you are signed into the official account and there are notices for action you can do them, however anywhere else they should be ignored. Links can be cloaked in almost any format and after clicking can redirect you to a similar looking but malicious site. Always ensure the URL(https://www.%5BInsert Your Online Service Provider Website].com) is what it is supposed to be and that it uses HTTPS for the log in form. If anything is amiss, find a bill or paper mail from them and give them a call.

Avoid Questionable Websites

If you have to ask if the website is safe to browse or not, avoid it. The advertisements can contain malicious downloads and the site can also contain stealth pop ups or all screen pop ups. These can be just annoying or they can be additional scareware that change your browser settings and trick you into thinking its a virus so you pay money to have it removed. I have removed this a few times on users machine, and each time it was an ‘FBI warning’ asking for payment for your online illegal activity they ‘detected’. No that’s not how the FBI works. Get your PC to a repair shop to ensure your PC is clean.

Read All Links Before Clicking

If you traverse any download sites you may have been confused as to which link to click to get what you want. There are a number of fraudulent download links that are really ads that live on many of the popular sites. These can include actual real software, but it’s guaranteed to not be what you want.  Read the links carefully and if you can’t figure it out, close out of that site and try somewhere else. Of course, this is only if you are downloading actual legal free software. If you are downloading illegal software/media, stop before you even start.

Another thing you can do is look for a preview URL that usually pops up in the bottom left corner of modern desktop browsers. Hovering over will preload most links and show where it goes. This can show if that facebook log in link goes to facebook or facebook.malicoussite.com

Final Thoughts

These are the basic steps to keep yourself safe from online scams. Just try to be aware of where you are and what you are doing and you should be safe as long as you keep this list of precautions in mind. Have any questions about staying safe online? Let us know in the comments below!


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