If you have a computer problem, Microsoft says don't expect a random call from them. The company says crooks are cold-calling consumers offering free help. It's all a trick to get your money and gain access to your personal information.
Kevin Boynton knows a lot about computers, and the potential for scams for people who use them.
"You've got to take a look at the internet in general and think of it kind of like the wild, wild West. Scams are going on all over the place; there is always going to be a salesman trying to sell you snake oil," he said.
He's a computer expert with a unique title -- chief of computer medicine -- for The Computer Doctor in Richmond, Virginia.
Boynton says a warning from Microsoft about scam phone calls where crooks offer free computer help is not surprising.
"As people become smarter and used to their computers, the scam artists have to come up with new ways to try and make a buck about people not knowing any better," he said.
Microsoft says thousands of people have already been fooled. The crooks randomly call people, posing as computer engineers and get people to believe their computer is infected. They usually request a fee of about $900, but it gets worse: They also gain remote access to your computer.
"They will either send you a file through email or they will direct you to a site where you download something and then that initiates the contact between your computer and their computer and they can take over," said Boynton.
He says the elderly are usually prime targets. Remember, no legitimate computer company will cold-call you and claim there is a problem with your computer. If you feel your computer is infected, find a reputable computer repair shop.
"The only company that may give you a call out the blue is probably your internet provider if they notice any kind of massive viral traffic coming from your computer," Boynton explained. "However, they are not going to try and charge you to fix your computer."
Falling for the trick can not only cost you money, but you could be putting your personal information at risk. If you think you've been a victim, alert your bank and credit card companies. Also, change all your passwords for your computer -- and for your financial and banking institutions. Safety experts say you should also get your computer scanned by a legitimate computer technician.
"Technology is a scary thing if you don't know how to use it and how to protect yourself," Boynton added.
Another tip: Don't trust the name on the caller ID -- crooks have ways of popping up a fake name. If you get one of the fake Microsoft calls, get as much information as you can and contact the Internet Crime Compliant Center.
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