Smart Comsumer: If someone phones to say your computer is broken, it's a scam
'Have you noticed your computer going slow?" the caller asked. Rae Teskey said she hadn't. Undeterred, the caller advised her that she had an error on her computer. "You need to fix it straight away or you'll lose everything," he cautioned.
When Rae answered the phone, the man had identified himself as calling from Microsoft and told her there was something wrong with her computer. "Go to your computer now," he continued, "and I'll help you through the process of fixing it."
Rae was a bit suspicious and decided that whatever happened she wouldn't part with any money. "How bad could it ," she thought.
The process took 30 minutes. Rae was asked to press numerous keys and at one stage when an error notice appeared the caller responded "my god, my god". Rae felt this dramatic response wasn't very professional but he kept giving her the impression that he was helping her avoid disaster and that she was lucky he called.
Then came the money part. The charge was €40 or €70 if she wanted to be "virus free" for two years and a form popped up on screen where Rae was directed to enter her card details. She said she wasn't paying and put the phone down.
And with that, her desktop wallpaper changed and all her icons vanished. What had just happened?
Rae was the victim of a scam, one that continues to target households in Ireland and worldwide.
In survey results on the scam published by Microsoft last year, they noted that across the US, Canada, UK and Ireland, an average of 15pc of people had received a call by scammers. In Ireland this rose to 26pc.
Of those deceived by the scam, the majority suffered some sort of financial loss; either by money being taken from their accounts, compromised passwords, suffering subsequent computer problems and even becoming victims of identity fraud.
'Cybercrime is a massive industry", says Ronan Murphy, CEO of Smarttech. "In fact it's a $1 trillion industry and five times more lucrative that the cocaine market. This is why more criminal organisations are getting involved."
Murphy explains that the scammers can load malware on to your computer that can transmit data back to them, such as the credit card details you input as they talk to you on the phone, and subsequently any other personal details you have on your computer, should they choose to access it.
In Rae's case, she didn't input her credit card details but her computer has clearly been compromised and she can't access her files. She can still get online but is worried about using the internet to buy tickets, for example. "Could they still get information from my computer?" she wonders.
Yes they could, and Rae shouldn't use her computer as it is, advises Murphy. Instead he recommends that she take it to a technician who will be able to save the data on her computer. But the operating system must be fully wiped, re-loaded and up to date anti-virus software added. Any applications Rae has will be lost however.
"The caller was very persuasive," remembers Rae, "but it has caused so much hassle." It's not only hassle, because although Rae never paid the scammer, it's going to cost her a lot to get her infected computer back to health.
Always be wary of unsolicited calls relating to a security problem, even if they claim to represent a respected company.
Never provide personal information, such as credit card or bank details, to an unsolicited caller.
Do not go to a website, type anything into a computer, install software or follow any other instruction from someone who calls out of the blue.
Ensure you have the latest security and anti-virus updates for your computer.
Use a strong, unique password and change it regularly.