What the Tech: Computer scams

What the Tech

October is Cyber-Security Awareness Month, and while you may think you’re smart enough to spot a scam, someone in your family is not. No matter a person’s age, scammers will often succeed in tricking victims into sharing information or clicking a link.

Here are two of the most popular, hence most successful computer scams going around today:

The “Your social security number is compromised” scam.

I must get four of these scam calls every few days. Their script is something like this: A recording that says “Don’t hang up. Your social security number has been compromised in a federal crime, and it is urgent that we speak with you.”

I played along one day just to see how this one works and discovered a very elaborate scheme involving at least three somewhat official-sounding scammers.

They claim your SS# was used to rent a car in Texas and that the car was later found with drugs and a dead body. Once I stayed on the line for a couple of minutes, the first “agent” told me to hold for his supervisor.

The “supervisor” wanted to make sure they have the right person and asked me to verify my social security number and date of birth. I made up both. The supervisor went on to give me their name and badge number that I should write down.

Armed with the fake information, the “supervisor” said I needed to talk with his boss with the FBI. A third person came on the phone with an American accent (the first two people spoke in a Middle Eastern accent).

I can see how some people fall for this scam. Eventually, they caught on that I knew it was a scam and that I was just trying to waste their time. They eventually hung up the phone.

This scam often targets young people, and I know two 20-something year olds who fell for the scam and did indeed confirm their date of birth, name and social security number. Both had to contact the social security administration, their bank and credit card companies.

Another scam targets older people who may not know much about computers. This scam also is over the phone and a recording states that the victim’s subscription is renewing automatically in a very large amount and to “hold on to speak to an agent to help you cancel this subscription.”

When I held on or pressed #1 for help, I was greeted by someone with very broken English claiming I have a subscription that is about to be renewed for a large sum of money. She said if I would like to cancel she could help me.

She then asked me to find the CTRL button on the keyboard and enter a series of letter and numbers in the box that popped up on my screen.

When I asked what this was going to do, she said “Sir, I am trying to help you.”

If I had entered the characters she instructed me to input, I would have given her control of my keyboard and mouse and computer hard drives where she could do whatever she wanted.

Most likely she, or the scammers she works for, would have installed malware on my computer that could see and download anything I have on the hard drives. She could have opened a web browser, searched for my bank information, and logged in with the username and password stored away in Google Chrome.

She could have installed ransomware on my computer that at some point would lock everything down and demand a ransom to give me control of the computer. This is a very successful scam in many cases, but most often comes as a result of someone clicking a link in an email.

These scams have a few things in common. First, it relates to a loss. A loss of money or a loss of personal information, such as a social security number. Both scams demand quick action and the people on the other end of the phone line speak with a sense of urgency.

The best advice is to avoid scammers by either hanging up the phone or not answering a call from a number you don’t recognize.

Report any scams to the FBI’s Internet crime tip line here.

Find more What the Tech here.

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