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May 26, 2020

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Tech tips to help you avoid scams

Do not call the number

By Chloe Noel
Ada Public Library tech trainer

As a technology trainer working in public libraries for over three years, one unfortunate trend I've seen increasing is the number of fake viruses and scams. In order to help keep your technology (and your bank account) safe from online scammers, I've compiled a list of things to watch for.

1) It is easier now for people to make fake viruses than it is to make real ones. These fake viruses usually pop up on your screen with a message saying something like "Your computer has been infected. Call Windows (or Microsoft) Tech Support at XXX-XXX-XXXX.”

Some of the pop-ups may beep, talk or have flashing lights. Some will say that you have been reported to the FBI and the only way to be taken off their list is to call a number and send them money. They take many different forms, but they all have the same element - a phone number they want you to call.

Do not call the number - the scammers will try to convince you that you need their tech support, for a small fee (usually ranging from $75-$400). They will install a program to gain access to your computer remotely, and will cause more problems (resulting in you calling them again to fix the problems that they created). And once you've called their number, they know you've fallen for their trick and will continue to keep calling you.

Luckily for us, these fake viruses are easy to get rid of. First, shut your device down completely. Some of these fake viruses will leave you unable to access the 'shut down' menu - if so, press and hold the power button for one minute  until your device is forcefully shut down. If possible, take the battery out or unplug the device. Wait a few minutes, then plug it back in and restart. The pop up should be gone - No harm, no foul.

2) Email scamming or "phishing" is also on the rise. Phishing (pronounced fishing) is the fraudulent practice of sending emails looking to be from reputable companies in order to trick people into giving personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers. Some look like they're from a friend, family member or coworker saying they have a funny picture or video to show you, but the spelling and grammar is inconsistant/incorrect. Some may be from a name you've never heard of. Some of them claim that they have taped video footage of you looking at adult content and will send it to your friends and family if you don't call or send them money/gift cards. Many of them have incorrect spelling and contain a link to click on, which can download viruses to your device.

Do not click any links from a questionable email. The best practice for recognizing these are to read the fine print and look for spelling/grammatical errors. If the email looks like it's from a family member or friend, call that person and double check that they really sent it to see if it's safe. The easiest answer to these email scams is to just delete the email in question.

3) Even those of us who don't have computers/tablet can fall prey to scammers. A new tactic being used by scammers is to call/leave a message on your phone saying that they are with the IRS and that you're behind on payments or didn't sign your tax forms. The IRS will never initiate contact with you via phone, unless you've contacted them and directed them to do so. So if you receive a message like this, delete it and forget it. If it's really the IRS, they will contact you by mail. You can read more about IRS scams here.

I hope these tips will keep you alert and safe from tech scammers and their tricks!