How to avoid scams in email, text messages and social sites.It happens: you’re online, browsing on Facebook or Amazon when suddenly a loud noise comes from your computer with a notice that you’ve been hacked/have pornography on your computer/the FBI is monitoring your computer. You’re told, “don’t turn off your computer, and call this number immediately!” What do you do?

Very simple: Shut off your computer and DON’T call that number.

Call them spammers, scammers, or some more colorful metaphor, there are people out there who have come up with a number of ways to try to trick you into (il)legally giving them your money. From Nigerian Princesses to FBI alerts, they’ve been doing their best to gather money from unsuspecting people. Since debunking every scam out there could fill a book, let me cover the more common scams.

Let’s start with the scam above: “Call us and we’ll fix your problem.” As I said, don’t call them. If you do, they’ll ask if they can access your computer remotely so they can “find” the problem. What happens is they’ll “search” your computer while downloading some malware or a virus, then tell you they found some MAJOR problems but they can quickly fix them online for the measly price of $200 or so. If you’re really, really lucky, they may actually remove the program they uploaded to your computer, but usually, they leave it there. That program will send your sensitive information to the scammers, letting them access your bank, credit cards, and anything else you might do online. Turning off your system before they get a chance to do that will usually remove the “warning” from your memory so you can restart your computer safely.

E-mail is one of the most prevalent ways to scam you. Nigerian Princesses and English Barristers offering you an inheritance are easy to spot but the best way to avoid a scam is don’t open any email you’re not totally positive is safe, even if it appears to come from someone you know.

What can happen if you DO open an e-mail like that? There’s a hospital in Boston that found out the hard way a few years ago. Most places of business have a strict policy against checking your e-mail on company computers, but a secretary at the hospital didn’t think the rule applied to her. She opened an e-mail from someone she thought was a friend, but the e-mail was actually a cover for ransomware. The program invaded the hospital locking the entire system down. The hospital ended up paying tens of thousands of dollars to the people who launched the attack to get their files unlocked.

Finally, social media is a neat concept, but it can be dangerous. Most social media have ads that can either pop up in your feed or along the side or articles for finding what the Kardashians are up to and what to do to protect your animals from fleas. In the computer business, we refer to those as “clickbait” since clicking on those can often lead to malware invasion on your system.

It’s a good idea to have your computer professionally cleaned once every one-to-two years, or if you suspect you might have malware or a virus on your system. It costs about a hundred dollars, which is a lot cheaper than giving someone full access to your computer/bank accounts/etc.

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