Duane Cary, Senior Trainer for Time Matters, PCLaw, Juris, and CounselLink, LexisNexis:
This is a true story. Only the names have been changed to protect the embarrassed.
A friend of mine, I will call her Betty, was using her computer and doing online research for a client. Suddenly, her computer screamed at her “WARNING! Your computer has contracted a virus! Contact us immediately!” Not just a pop-up window, but an actual computer voice was speaking to her. And not only did it speak, but the window that did pop up looked official and mirrored the images and logos of a major software company.
Betty freaked out.
It looked so authentic, that Betty actually called the number. After all, this was a work computer, it contained her client’s private information, and it did look genuine, so she did what the message intended her to do.
As you may have already guessed, it was a scam. After Betty called the number, the voice on the other end told her that they would need to connect to her computer to clean the infection and gave her instructions on how to do so. During the call, she said the voice on the other end sounded professional and acted like she expected a tech support agent to act. Eventually, they asked for payment. At this point, after the initial shock of the message wore off, Betty started to get apprehensive. She told them she didn’t have a credit card. No problem, said the agent, she could pay using iTunes gift cards.
At that point she realized she had been taken for a ride, and promptly hung up.
Pop up scams are getting trickier and trickier every day, as illustrated by Betty’s story. They are being used to not only extort money from victims, but they are also a way of giving access of your computer to a stranger. As they pretend to fix a problem that doesn’t exist, they can discretely install malware such as key logging software to track information typed into your computer, or trojans that can be used to gain access to your computer whenever they want.
In order to protect yourself, there are a few things you can do to try and spot fake virus claims:
The best thing you can do is make sure you are running legitimate anti-virus software on your computer. Some of the popular makers of antivirus software are:
Make sure your antivirus software is up to date and either have it automatically do a virus scan at a set date and time or remember to manually perform one yourself on a regular basis. If you are a solo or duo firm, or someone without a regular tech person on call, please make sure you are running antivirus software on your machines. If you do have an IT person, just verify what they are running and how often it scans.
Also, educate your friends and family. Those people who are not exposed to computers on a regular basis are the ones most likely to fall for a scam of this type. If something looks suspicious, treat it as such.
If you do fall victim to the scam, check with your local bar regarding what you are required to do if your data is compromised.
And one last thing. My friend who got the virus? In case you didn’t get the hint about the iTunes gift cards, she was using a Mac. So contrary to popular opinion, Apple is just as susceptible to a virus as Microsoft.
So, to quote Hill Street Blues and show my age: “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”