As you have probably noticed in these columns, we find ourselves returning repeatedly and depressingly to discussions of the dangers and pitfalls of computer and Internet fraud. (If you got as many calls from victims and near-victims in a typical week as we do, you would probably find yourself focused on the dark side too.)
The crooks nowadays are attacking mainly in three ways:
1) there are the telephone calls from the so-called “technicians” at “Microsoft” or “Windows” or some other recognizable tech industry name. Advice for responding to the phone call is short and simple: Just hang up – without a word. Don’t be polite; don’t be angry; don’t be mischievous. Any response whatever is going to flag your telephone number as a “live one” and will trigger more calls later. A reputable tech business is NEVER going to call you to report a problem.
2) there are sudden pop-up invasions on your computer display with bright flashing graphics and audible alarms. The smart response to the invasive pop-up is almost as simple; shut down your computer. If the screen is disabled and you can’t shut down by clicking in the usual way, instead you press and hold the power button for a minimum of eight seconds. When you restart a minute later it is almost certain that the attack will have disappeared, but when your web browser asks you if you want to go back to the pages where you were when you shut down, the answer is no.
3) there are incorrect (fraudulent) search results in which web pages are cleverly designed to resemble the support sites of legitimate businesses. The end result is always the same: the state of your computer is worse than anyone imagined, and it’s going to take a lot of money to fix it. The fraudulent website is just a little trickier. Let’s say that you are having a problem with your printer and you want to go to the Hewlett Packard site to get advice. If the page is not really Hewlett Packard, there will be an early and prominent invitation to call a number. Don’t! Check the URL (the web address) of the website and see if it seems logical. If you are at all suspicious, COPY the URL and PASTE it into the Google Safe Browsing Transparency Report - https://transparencyreport.google.com/safe-browsing/overview which will disclose if that site has a history of problems.
For thoughts on fraud in tech areas and a in wider context as well, the basic information in a booklet from the Competition Bureau of Canada called The Little Black Book of Scams has very worthwhile information and advice to help us keep the bad guys from the door. You can go to http://www.competitionbureau.gc.ca/eic/site/cb-bc.nsf/eng/04333.html to order a copy or read the PDF right there on the site. Apparently as of this writing they are temporarily out of the hard copy and so there will be a delay if you order one mailed to you. It is 21 pages and so if you’re going to download and print it, be sure to set your printer to black-only.