by  Bridget Small
Consumer Education Specialist, Federal Trade Commission

Scammers know people pay attention to warning signs, like the car’s “check engine” light, or railroad crossing gates and weather alerts. So when a fraudster wants to grab your attention, he may disguise his pitch as a warning. At the FTC’s request, a federal court temporarily shut down and froze the assets of an operation that allegedly used phony online warnings about computer security, and deceived people into spending millions of dollars on unnecessary computer technical support services.

According to the FTC, a network of five companies and three individuals that worked together ran online pop-up ads that told people their computers were hacked, infected or having significant performance problems. Sometimes, a loud alarm or voice recording played when the ad appeared. If a user opened the ad, it hijacked her browser and she couldn’t close or navigate around the ad.

The bogus warnings directed people to call a telephone number that was linked to a boiler room in India. The FTC says that call center staff had zero information about consumers’ computer, and falsely claimed they were affiliated with famous companies like Microsoft and Apple. Call center staff pressured people to give them remote access to their computers, and pay $200 to $400 for “technical services.” When scammers got into the computers, they pretended to run diagnostic tests that revealed “problems,” and made unnecessary or harmful changes to the computers.

If you get a pop-up that doesn’t look right, shut down your browser. Don’t click “No” or “Cancel,” or the “x” at the top right corner of your screen. If you use Windows, press Ctrl + Alt + Delete to open your Task Manager, select your browser window(s) and click “End Task.” If that doesn't work, simply shut down your computer the way that you normally do. After turning your computer back on, don't go back to the website that you were on just prior to seeing the fake website.

If you still have trouble, DO NOT call a number that pops up on your screen or let anyone you don't know have access to your computer. Instead call Computer Techs, a trustworthy computer business serving thousands of clients in the Reno area since 2003.

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