Help! I've Been Scammed!
Updated: Sep 10
In the course of assisting clients with computer issues in Brisbane, almost every week I find myself helping someone who's been the victim of a scam. In fact, even whilst writing this piece, I received a phone call from someone who’d been scammed and required assistance. The scams originate either as the result of an unsolicited phone call, or on the computer itself. Unfortunately, scams like these are all too common, and very much a plague on our society.
In this post, I'd like to firstly take a look at how you can avoid falling victim to the scammers. Then we’ll look at what you can do when you have fallen victim to them. If you're in Brisbane, Ipswich, Logan or the Redlands, I can assist you with cleaning up and securing your computer following a scam intrusion.
Phone Calls & Pop-ups
The scam intrusions I see regularly on people's computers have often resulted from a telephone call purporting to be from Microsoft or Telstra or some other reputable company, telling you that there's a problem with which they need to assist you, typically an urgent problem which needs to be rectified. Or they can originate from a pop-up on your screen, perhaps as you're surfing the internet or doing something totally harmless such as checking your emails or your Facebook feed, or shopping online. The pop-up will often purport to be from Microsoft, informing you that your computer is at immediate risk, has been locked and should not be shut down. You are advised to call a number provided in order to receive assistance with your computer.
Let me just say at the outset that you will never receive a genuine phone call from Microsoft telling you that there's an issue with your computer. Nor will you ever receive a pop-up on your screen from Microsoft telling you that your computer has a problem requiring remote assistance. These and other such phone calls and pop-ups are all scams and need to be avoided.
Scammers Pretending to be Someone Else
On the other hand, I've known clients who have reported a genuine internet or equivalent issue to Telstra and shortly thereafter have received a call from someone purporting to be from Telstra and prepared to assist with the issue. In this case, it's much easier to be sucked in because there is in fact a legitimate reason for the phone call. But this scenario is also a scam. I've also had one client fall victim to a scam from someone purporting to represent Norton, the antivirus software provider she was using at the time. Unfortunately, scams relating to antivirus software are also widespread.
If you do receive a telephone call along these lines, the most sensible thing to do is to simply hang up. If it's a genuine call relating to a genuine issue which needs to be addressed, then of course they will leave you a message and you can call them back at your convenience. A scammer, on the other hand, will not leave you a message. You’re also likely to find, should you be unfortunate enough to engage in a telephone conversation with one of these people, that they may become intimidating and aggressive in their approach. They will work hard to have you believe that the issue at hand is urgent and requires immediate attention.
As far as scam pop-ups on your computer screen go, these pop-ups will often almost fill the whole screen. The content displayed will be intimidating and the pop-up may even be accompanied by an audible voice telling you that your computer has a problem. There may be references to your computer being blocked or disabled for security reasons.
If you’re unfortunate enough to encounter a scenario like this, you should do the opposite of what the pop-up tells you to do. You should shut your computer down and, under no circumstances, call the number provided. A desktop computer can be switched off by pressing the power button or switching off at the mains. A laptop can be shut down by holding your finger on the power button for 10-12 seconds until it fully shuts down. After a full shutdown, you can safely restart your computer.
The Process of Being Scammed
Unfortunately, I’ve encountered many people who have unwittingly allowed one of these scammers to gain remote access to their computer following a phone call received, or as a result of calling the number provided on the rogue pop-up. Once they have you on the telephone they will be telling you things about your computer which are not true. They will likely ask you to install or run some software which will allow them to gain access to your screen and control your computer.
The scammer may then undertake some actions which appear to be legitimate in order to gain your confidence. They may even run some sort of health check on your computer. However, ultimately their goal is to start taking your money. They are likely to ask you to transfer funds and they may use legitimate services such as Western Union in their attempt to do so. One of my recent clients spent five hours on the telephone with a number of these people before realising the whole thing was a scam.
Recovering From a Scam on Your Computer
So what should you do if you have fallen foul to one of these scams and given someone access to, and remote control over, your computer? I’d imagine when this has happened to you once, you’re likely to never allow it to happen again. But if you have fallen victim to a scammer and someone has been controlling your computer remotely, I can certainly assist you in cleaning up and securing your computer.
In cleaning up your computer I would carry out a full health check which would also address any issues which were there prior to you being scammed. I would begin with a scan for malware and viruses, typically not using whatever antivirus software you have installed on the computer. Then I'll be looking to see what programs and apps have been installed. I'll be checking to see what applications are launching at startup, and then to see what processes and services are running in the background. Finally I'll be checking your internet browsers to see whether any settings been changed or hijacked or configured to allow rogue pop-ups.
Scammers Controlling Your Computer
On one recent occasion I was cleaning up a computer for a client after she’d been scammed as a result of a fake Microsoft pop-up. Even while I was running a malware scan and beginning to carry out the actions described above to close the door to the scammer, suddenly the scan was cancelled and the mouse began to move. The scammer from the previous day had once again taken remote control of the computer and was attempting to prevent me from cleaning it up and locking him out. I was of course able to close the door on him to shut him out completely and permanently.
Sometimes the software tools used by the scammers continue to run in the background with no visible evidence that anything is amiss. As a result the scammer retains continued access to your computer from wherever they are in the world. They can do whatever they want and spy on what you're doing even after your session with them has ended. As you can imagine, it is essential that you have your computer thoroughly checked after you’ve realised you’ve been the victim of a scam.
Verified Computer Clean-up Following a Scam
If you have been the victim of one of these scams, rest assured that it is possible to have your computer completely cleaned up, and this is something I’d be happy with which to assist you. Following the clean-up I would provide you with a detailed description of the work undertaken during the clean-up. You can then provide this document to your bank if necessary. In many cases your bank will have temporarily suspended your online banking access until they see evidence that the computer has been professionally cleaned.
Following the clean-up of your computer you should of course change your important passwords, in case any of these have been compromised during the scam. These would include your online banking password, your e-mail password, your Facebook, other social media, eBay, PayPal etc.
One thing worth adding is that if you do have antivirus software on your computer, such software will not prevent a scammer gaining access. Antivirus software will prevent viruses and other malware from impacting your computer, whether from the internet, or potentially through an email attachment. Unfortunately as far as scammers are concerned, the reason they are able to gain access to your computer is simply because you have opened the door to them.
If You Need Help...
If you're somewhere in Brisbane, Ipswich, Logan or the Redlands and you've been scammed, or you're concerned about the possibility of being scammed, or you just need some advice about what to do, please do feel free to give me a call. I'm available in a wide range of suburbs throughout the greater Brisbane area and I’d be happy to help. I’m also available to assist with all sorts of other computer repairs and computer services so please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you require assistance.