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Elliott Greenblott: Beware emails containing computer service imposter scams

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Don't fall for computer service imposter scams. Technology companies such as Microsoft, Apple or Samsung do not monitor individual computers; they have no idea if there is anything wrong with your device unless YOU notify them.

This is the third in four-part series examining some of the most common Internet scams in play today.

The computer service imposter scam arrives by email and can appear in a couple “flavors:”

1: There is a virus on your computer! An email to you, and thousands of others, claims to be from a representative of a well know company such as Microsoft or Best Buy stating this is Geek Squad or Windows: “There is a virus on your computer and I can help.”

You are asked to either click on a link or call a number to receive help. This has proven to be one of the most successful scams successful netting victims who have limited computer skills. The scammer usually takes one of two approaches, either asking potential victims to provide credit card information in return for assistance or to log into a website and grant the criminal access to the computer.

The payment is pure and simple theft and may result in additional use of the credit card; granting access means that all of the information on the device, passwords, account numbers, personal information, is now in criminal hands.

2: You receive an email invoice from “Geek Squad” for purchase of a service and the message includes a phone number to call if you did not place an order. When you connect with an “operator” you are told that you must provide online access to your computer in order to receive a refund.

Recommended action: In both of these situations, criminals hope to manipulate victims into making serious mistakes. Dismiss and delete the message. Technology companies such as Microsoft, Apple or Samsung do not monitor individual computers; they have no idea if there is anything wrong with your device unless YOU notify them.

While filing a report with an agency such as the Federal Trade Commission may seem to be a good idea, it will not result in any arrest or action; these criminals are outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement.

Another scam appearing via email is a notice from the United States Postal Service indicating that a package sent to you is being held as undeliverable and you need to click on a link to clear up the problem. The link opens an imposter web page that appears to be the official USPS website, where you are asked to enter your full name and address, after which you are taken to a page asking for credit card information.

Recommended action: Notify the Postal Inspection Service (uspis.gov) of this attempt. Be prepared to provide both the email sender address and the URL (address line) of the web page.

A more recent scam involves individual web browsing and might be considered extortion. Here, the victim receives an email message stating that he or she visited a banned website. The link in the email opens an imposter government web page with instructions to pay a fine by providing name, address and credit card information.

Recommended action: Do not provide any financial or personal information. Report the scam to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s internet crime website (IC3.gov).

The scams described here are common and have some commonalities: most originate outside the United States, thus outside our law enforcement system; most are operated by international criminal organizations involved in human smuggling, drug trafficking, prostitution and extortion. This is not something to be played with by anyone outside law enforcement. It is far too easy to fall into a trap that puts you in danger.

Before opening an email, check the address of the sender and know that government agencies do not initiate contact by email. Government agencies and corporations do not use gmail. After clicking a link, check the address line of the webpage. Many imposter sites appear with GoDaddy, Google, or other website provider names.

Finally, don’t play games. These criminals already have your email address and possibly your name. By opening a website link, you provide your location, type of computer and other personal data.

Elliott Greenblott a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network, produces the CATV program, Mr. Scammer, distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, VT.

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