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Scam Alert: Callers claim they can 'fix' computer problems

‘Your computer has a problem,’ the caller says. But how do they know? Answer: they don’t

When you pick up the telephone and hear the caller say you have a problem with your computer, but he’s sure he can fix it with your help, you’re entering dangerous territory.

This is a common scam lately, and, even if the caller claims to be from Microsoft or Apple, you can be certain he is not.

The goal of this scam is for the caller to get you to give him access to your computer.

The scammers make random phone calls until they find someone willing to do that – and that’s why, even if you don’t have a computer, you may receive a call claiming your computer needs help.

“There is no way he can know that,” said Dustin Ciancio, owner of Prescott’s SofTech Computers. “You do not give them control of your computer, ever.”

The Federal Trade Commission lists, on its website, the plans the con man may have for your computer, once he’s convinced you that your computer has a problem.

A scammer might:

• ask you to give them remote access to your computer – which lets them change your computer settings so your computer is vulnerable to attack

• trick you into installing malware that gives them access to your computer and sensitive data, like user names and passwords

• try to sell you software that’s worthless, or that you could get elsewhere for free

• try to enroll you in a worthless computer maintenance or warranty program

• ask for credit card information so they can bill you for phony services, or services you could get elsewhere for free

• direct you to websites and ask you to enter your credit card number and other personal information.

These scammers want to get your money, access to your computer, or both.

Chino Valley resident Russell Terry has received these calls, but Terry has a background

in computer networking.

“This young man, with a very heavy Asian accent … was telling me my computer was giving him errors, and he was able to see it,” Terry said. “Now, he didn’t know I’d owned my own internet company for 20 years and I was a network engineer.”

So he decided to give the con man a tough time.

“I said, ‘I have five computers here, and I need to know which one it is, ‘cause I’m really worried.

“What’s the IP address?” he asked, referred to a code that a random scammer wouldn’t know, and he didn’t.

“Well, what is this going to cost me to fix?” Terry asked, but the caller evaded that question and instead told him to go into his computer’s registry and start making changes.

Doing this can seriously affect your computer’s ability to operate.

When Terry told him that he’d been a network engineer, the caller hung up.

Your safest bet if you get a call like this is to simply hang up. But if you should become ensnared in the scam, all is not necessarily lost.

Ciancio said he’s helped many people get their computers back online after they’ve been compromised.

“We’ve also helped them recover the money they’ve given the scammers as well,” he said. “We’re not 100 percent with it, but we do pretty well.”

Still, the safest thing to do is hang up when an unknown caller wants to get into your computer.

“It’s all a façade,” said Ciancio.