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This one is for your grandparents (aka “I’m calling you from Windows and you a have virus”

Only you can save Grampy and Oma
Only you can save Grampy and Oma

OK people, this one is for your parents and your grandparents.  There is an annoying scam that has been going around where they get called from someone claiming to be from Windows and the weasels have detected a virus on their PC.  And then the weasels extort hundreds of dollars from the nice people who gave you money for every report card.  And you can protect your people. You are their only hope.

The weasels employ some cheap tricks to convince you that your machine has a virus and then get you to install a remote access app to let them hijack your PC.  With control over your PC, they can install pretty much anything they want.  Then you find out that you need to pay them lots of money to get control of your PC back.  Or they’ll lock it up so you can’t use it all.

This is what you need tell Grandma.  When the weasel calls from Windows, just hang up.  Don’t say anything once you hear them say they are from Windows or are from “Tech Support”, just hang up. They may call right back, or perhaps the next day.  Just hang up.

This scam has been going around for a few years and it’s classic social engineering.  They will walk you through launching the Windows event viewer and have you scroll through the list until you see an error message.  You’ll always see an error message, something is always complaining about something under the hood.  It’s more or less business as usual in Windows.

There's always an error, you can ignore most of them
There’s always an error, you can ignore most of them

But the weasel is going to tell you that it’s a virus and they will fix it for you.  he tell you that he needs to access your PC to verify what the problem is. He’ll have you run “a diagnostic tool”, that’s how the weasels install their malware.  Once their software is installed, they basically own the machine.  If you don’t pay up, that machine is basically under their control.

This scam has been going around for a few years.  Why?  Because it works.  Enough people are fooled to where this can make some money to people who are clearly deficient in the moral compass department.

This is on you to be the first line of defense for your family and friends.  If Mom and Dad (or Grandma and Pop-pop) have a PC and are not IT skilled, then make sure their important stuff is backed up somehow.

Here’s  a short list that easy to do:

  1. Have a copy of all of their email accounts and passwords.  If their machine gets compromised, you should be able to go online and change all of their passwords for them.
  2. Ditto for their Facebook and other social media accounts.
  3. Make sure that if they do any online banking, they use unique passwords for each account.  And have them write that stuff down.  They may not want you to have the keys to your future inheritance, but you need to be able to help them lock down the access to those account.
  4. Write down the product keys for anything that needs to be reinstalled.  That includes Windows.  There are free tools like Belarc Advisor or Magic Jelly Bean that will look this information for you.  If you need to reinstall Windows, this will savea  lot of time.
  5. The sky is the limit for backups, at the very least get portable hard drive and just backup their important files on a regular basis.  I would use two drives and swap them out.  Go on the assumption that the drives will fail after year.  It’s OK, Staples will have them on sale again.   In addition to protecting their files from someone locking up their PC, you get the backup protection in case the hard drive goes on the PC.

The first four steps, you just need to once and update when their accounts are changed.  The backup you just have to get them in the habit of doing.  Or you just do it for them.

Just remember the cardinal rule: hang up the phone.  If Grandpa doesn’t want to hang up in the case that it’s valid call, then let the call go to the answering machine.  If it’s a real call, they’ll leave a message and a call back number.  A weasel is not going to leave a number where you can call them back.

A great suggestion came in after I originally posted this.  When the weasels call, tell them that you work for Microsoft.  They’ll hang up and not call you again.  Different weasels will call, but not ones that called you before.

Photo from SalFalko’s photostream on Flickr, used under CC license.