Popular Online Scams – Arm Yourself

Andrea Eldridge
Andrea Eldridge

Social media and our “connected” lifestyle have made it easier than ever for criminals to use technology to steal identities, money, and data from unsuspecting users.  Here are some of the most interesting technology scams out there.  Arm yourself, so you don’t fall victim to these tricky ploys.

Microsoft Calling:  You get a call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft (or your cable company, or Norton, etc..).  They identify themselves as Joe or some common moniker yet likely have a distinct accent.  The caller informs you that they’ve tracked virus transmissions to your computer, claiming that you have malicious code on your system that’s infecting others.  You need only grant them the ability to remotely access your computer and they can remove the virus for you.

If you do grant them access, the newest version of the scam is to actually install a virus on your computer.  Should you deny their attempt to charge you for its removal, you’re left with a slow, infected computer and a window to your data left wide to allow identity thieves to help themselves to your personal and financial information.

To protect yourself, never allow an unknown party access to your computer.  If you get a call from someone claiming that your computer as doing anything – be it transmitting a virus, downloading copyright-protected content, etc… –  immediately hang up and call your trusted computer repair company. Remote computer repair is a great tool, but only in the hands of a reputable repair professional.

Facebook and Twitter:  The Better Business Bureau’s list of the top ten scams of 2012 lists “Fake Facebook Tweets” as its top identity theft scam.  You get a direct message from a name you recognize via Twitter or Facebook.  The text refers to a video posted to Facebook and the sender says that you’re in it, likely insinuating that the content is embarrassing and you will want to fix it right now.  Understandably, you immediately click on the link included in the message only to get an error message instructing you to update Flash or install some sort of plug-in.  Don’t do it!

Installing the program as prompted instead infects your system with a virus or malware that collects and reports back your personal information, allowing the perpetrators to steal credit card numbers or your identity.  Or at the very least captures and sends messages to your contacts.  So never install software that has originated from clicking on a web link.  If you believe that your Java may be out of date, go directly to the source (www.java.com) so you know you’re installing the legitimate program.

Help Me Grandma:  Another nefarious use of social media sharing is the so-called “Grandparents Scam.”  You get a call, text, email or Facebook message from someone claiming to be your grandchild, niece, cousin, etc.  The person explains that they’re traveling abroad and have fallen victim to a mugging, accident, or have been arrested.  They beg you not to “tell mom or dad,” just wire cash.

When this scam started, criminals primarily took advantage of elderly people by calling late at night and offering just enough undisputed information to convince victims of their legitimacy.  As the scam evolved, scammers have begun to use information posted on public forums and social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn to sprinkle truths into their fiction (“having a blast in Hawaii”), leading more people to fall for the scam.

Let your instincts prevail, never wire money without solid proof of the identity of the recipient.  Always call friends and family of the supposed victim to check out the story, despite any panicked requests to the contrary.  They should be involved in case of a true emergency, or rather in these cases, you will get to save your hard earned money.

Andrea Eldridge is CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, an on-site computer and laptop repair service for consumers and businesses. Andrea is the writer of two weekly columns, Computer Nerds On Call a nationally syndicated column for Scripps-Howard News Service, and Nerd Chick Adventures in The Record Searchlight. She regularly appears on ABCCBSFOXNBCThe CW, and CNN on shows such as Good Day Sacramento, Good Morning Arizona and MORE Good Day Portland, offering viewers easy tips on technology, Internet lifestyle, and gadgets. Andrea recently has begun working with Demand Media to produce content for eHow.com and has written a book for them Smartphone 101: Integrating Your iPhone Into a Windows World. Andrea is available for Q & A’s, expert tech quotes and will appear on your show, call today! See Andrea in action at www.callnerds.com/andrea.