Have you ever had a mechanic knock on your door to tell you that he was driving by, saw that your car wasn’t running correctly, and decided to come by and fix it? He helpfully takes apart your engine at your request, but then stops working and demands money to finish. You pay what he requested, he works a little more, but tells you more is broken than he thought and that he needs more money. This cycle continues until you stop giving him money, at which point you’re left with a disassembled car in your driveway and a lot less cash in your wallet than you started the day with.
What mechanic could know your car's repair needs simply from driving by? Moreover, why would the "repairs" happen in your driveway? If this situation sounds nonsensical, that's because it is. But, that’s basically the same idea as a common fraud technique: The PC cleaning scam.
How to Spot a PC Cleaning Scam
Just about everyone who has browsed the Internet has run into a pop-up that claims to be a virus scanning program. They're usually accompanied by big red notices, flashing images, a pop-up box or two, and some threatening language about “fatal errors” or “malicious keyloggers." The pop-up can make it look like your computer is infested with malware and viruses. Here's the problem with their drive-by “diagnosis” - They have NO way of knowing if your computer is truly infected.
Just like a doctor can’t diagnose a heart condition from seeing you across the room, these fraudsters can’t tell whether your computer is infected from their website pop-up. The programs offered from these pop-ups are usually viruses themselves that can wreak havoc on your computer and compromise your personal data.
How a PC Cleaning Scam Works
These not-so-helpful scammers often give a convenient number to call so you can “clean” your computer with their “expert” help. Be warned, the only thing the person on the other line is an expert at is stealing your identity and taking your money. The story usually goes that they are with Microsoft or Apple or some other major company (they aren’t), and that you just need to give them remote access to your computer so they can “clean” it (you shouldn’t). Giving someone remote access to your PC is like handing a stranger the key to your front door and crossing your fingers. In this increasingly digital age, we now store everything from cat pictures to our most sensitive tax and financial documents in our personal devices, sometimes without even realizing it!
In the most common iteration of this scam, the fraudster often requests that you access your financial institution's account to “verify that the payment went through” or some other made up reason. When they do this they can see everything on your screen that you can and now have access to your account numbers, and other personal information, which can be used to impersonate you or even set up transfers out of your account. Once they’re in, all the information in your online banking is considered compromised.
What to Do if You're a Victim
If you are a victim of this scam, report it immediately by contacting your financial institution. The sooner the better, as every minute that your information is in the hands of these fraudsters is another minute that they can start draining your account.
Now that you know more about PC cleaning scams, take the "Real or Scam?" quiz below to test your knowledge.
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