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February 13, 2013

The Top Tech Scams to Watch Out For

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Social media, online databases and our “connected” lifestyle has 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 prevalent technology scams of 2012 — be sure you don’t fall victim to these tricky ploys that are still in circulation.

• You get a call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft (or your cable company, or Norton, etc.)  They identify themselves as Adam or some common moniker, yet likely have a distinct accent.  The caller informs you they’ve tracked virus transmissions to your computer, claiming 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 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/or 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.

• 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 the content is embarrassing.  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.

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, your identity or both.  Never install software that has originated from clicking on a Web link.  If you believe your Java may be out of date, go directly to the source (www.java.com) so you know you’re installing the legitimate program.

• Another nefarious use of social media sharing is the so-called “Grandparents Scam.”  You get a call, text, e-mail or Facebook message from someone claiming to be your grandchild, niece, cousin, etc.  The person explains they’re travelling 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 originated, criminals primarily took advantage of elderly people by calling late at night and offering just enough common information while farming the reminder on the call to convince victims of their legitimacy.  As the scam evolved, perpetrators have begun to use information posted on public forums and social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn to pepper truths into their fiction (“I’m in Mexico celebrating my college graduation”), leading more people to fall for the scam.

Never wire money without solid verification of the identity of the recipient.  Call friends and family of the supposed victim to check out the story, despite any panicked requests to the contrary.

For more of the Better Business Bureau’s Top Ten Scams of 2012, see their report which includes tips to avoid becoming a victim.


Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds On Call, which offers onsite computer and laptop repair service for homeowners and small businesses. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states. Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea.

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