Why do Scams Still Work?
We have all gotten the phone calls from people saying they are with Microsoft, and they detected a problem on your computer. They go ahead and tell you that you need to give them remote access to your computer so they can fix the problem. Once they are in your computer, they can do any number of things from plant a virus on your computer to cause a problem when there wasn’t one previously, they can scan your computer looking for logins and passwords to your bank and other accounts, or they can set off ransomware or even delete your information after taking what they want.
These scammers play into the fear of people who are not so computer savvy. The younger generations grew up with computers and they have pretty advanced computer skills from a very young age. Most Gen-Xers were young enough when the personal computers became common most people know how to take care of their computers and how to protect themselves. Many people who didn’t grow up with computers and only started to work with them later in life usually rely on their children and grandchildren to maintain and fix their computers when things go wrong. For many of the older generations, their computer may be their only connection to family members and friends who have moved away, and they rely on email and social media to stay connected to the people in their lives.
So, when you receive a phone call saying that your only means of communication is at risk, you are going to act so you don’t lose contact with your loved ones. It is this fear that scammers prey on. The older generations and those who did not use computers regularly at school, or work are frequent targets for these scams and unfortunately the success rate for scammers is pretty high.
Scammers have gotten sophisticated. It used to be that you could immediately tell if they email that looks like it is from your bank was fake. There were typos and other problems in the email where it was easy to spot. That is not the case any longer. Email scammers have gotten get good at hiding their tracks to the point that even if you ask an experienced computer user, they will admit that at some point or another they have fallen for a fake email when they were not paying attention or they were distracted by other things. Getting trouble only takes that one moment of distraction to wind up with ransomware on your computer.
There is an easy way to protect yourself from scammers, whether they call your home or send an email: Trust no one. If you receive a call from a person claiming to be with Microsoft, Apple, or the IRS, just hang up. Businesses and government agencies are not going to call you directly. Microsoft and Apple do not monitor computers for suspicious activity, and the IRS will contact you through the Postal Service.
If you receive a call from a person claiming to be from your bank or other financial institution, hang up immediately and call the company using a known phone number. If you have a credit card or financial statement, use a phone number on either of those to call the company and ask if they tried to contact you. If they did, there will be a record of it.
The other way to protect yourself is to have antivirus and malware protection that is automatically and regularly updated. This way, if you have a moment of distraction and click on the wrong file, your antivirus protection will detect it and stop the virus, malware, or ransomware from taking over your computer. It is also a great idea to back up your files. A backup should be to an external drive so you still have your files should anything happen to your computer. Ideally, your backup should be to the cloud. An external drive will protect your data from viruses or a failed hard drive, but if there is a fire, you could lose your computer and your backup.