COLUMN: Protect yourself from online scams

There are so many people falling victim to scams recently. The key to spotting and avoiding scams is knowing what to look for.

When the phone rings and you hear an operator saying they are from Talk Talk, Microsoft, or any other place of business, stop and ask yourself why they are calling you. The computer scammers start out their conversation in the same way. They want to speed up your computer or internet. Speed is the clue.

They tell you they are calling about your Windows computer. How do they know you have a computer? Secondly there is no such thing as a Windows computer. Windows is a Microsoft product designed for computers, but, Windows does not have a branded computer. Also, Microsoft has no way of knowing your phone number and will not call you unless you call them and ask for a call back.

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The Microsoft Scam is pretty clever in that it says “your computer is running slow because it has viruses on it”. Microsoft does not monitor your computer for viruses, so they would not know this. Watch for things like this.

The Talk Talk scam works similar. They also want to take control of your computer but they claim that this is to configure your settings for an update to your router or to boost your signal and make the internet faster, and who does not want faster internet? Thus the person allows them to take over the computer in good faith that they will get faster internet. The result is a lot like the Microsoft scam. In the end you have a virus on your computer and you are facing a bill at your local computer shop for virus removal.

Scams come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are via email. A recent one has surfaced from Lancashire Police saying a fine is due and they send their invoice in a word document. First, why would you owe money to the police in another county, and second, if you send an invoice you do it in a PDF format so that no changes can be made to it.

Also, some scams come as a pop up that won’t go away. These are usually cleverly disguised with a picture of Queen Elizabeth II and a police officer. They state you have been looking at child porn and offer a way to pay your way out of it. If you see this, turn off your computer and take it to a professional.

Protect yourself by knowing the facts. If it looks suspicious don’t open it. If it sounds suspicious, hang up. When in doubt, take it to an expert.