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Ransomware: No Joke

Have you ever been intensely working on a project or just surfing the net and a little box pops up? If you are like me, first comes panic, then the question; am I going to lose all my documents and photos?

These pop-ups can advise of a security breach, or a need to update software. Or in the worst-case scenario, they’ll warn your files have been locked or confiscated and you must pay a ransom to get them back. I can attest to the fact that ransomware is no joke.

I was hit a couple of years back with ransomware: all my files were encrypted, and I lost everything. It was the absolute worst. I took my computer to a technician who said it would take a three-step process to retrieve each file; with 800 files the task seemed almost impossible.

The Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker received more than 7,000 reports in the past two years from people claiming a company posting as a computer repair or security service contacted them to fix problems with their computer.

Microsoft – whose corporate name is often used by thieves to dupe consumers – reports receiving 12,000 complaints worldwide every month. While the ages of potential and actual victims vary, Microsoft says millennials are most likely to continue with a fraudulent tech support offer, while older consumers are more likely to file complaints.

Luckily, if you realize a tech support scam is targeting you, a simple reboot of your computer usually eliminates the warning screens and gets you back to business. Some of the ways scammers target potential victims include:

Warning screens. Nearly half of tech support scams begin when an alert message appears on the computer screen saying it’s detected a problem. There will be a number you can call for help. Never call a number that just appears on your computer.

Cold calls. Another popular way for thieves to get in touch with victims is through cold calls. The caller claims to be from Comcast, Norton, Dell, or another tech company and says servers have detected signs the consumer’s computer has a security problem. Never give a cold caller any financial information and never let a cold caller have access to your computer.

Sponsored links. When using a search engine to look for tech support, be wary of the sponsored ads at the top of the list. Microsoft warns many of these links go directly to businesses set up to scam consumers.

Emails. Microsoft recently reported scammers now use email to reach potential victims. A link in the email takes the consumer to a website the scammers operate that launches a pop-up with the fake warning and phone number.

What should you do if you realize you are the victim of a tech support scam? First, contact your bank immediately and put fraud alerts on your accounts. Then take your computer to a trusted local business to check for malware. Also, remove any software that has authorized remote access to your computer. Then change the passwords for online access to financial institutions and other sensitive sites that could have been compromised. Finally, help your neighbors out by sharing your experience on BBB Scam Tracker, bbb.org/scamtracker.

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Written by Jeremy Johnson

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