New scammers hack humans as much as machines

This column really continues on from one a few months ago when I mentioned just how much information about ourselves we share on a daily basis. Thanks to social media sites, we often open up and divulge little things to the world not knowing that these could possibly be used against us.

Social engineering, a new term, is when a scammer uses hacking techniques to learn about his or her intended target beforehand to gain their trust.

Scammers used to send thousands of emails containing a virus to infect a computer and wait for the user to log into their bank web site. Nowadays a virus checker would probably delete it on the spot.

Rather than using such random methods, now scammers can target people they know are more likely to have money, such as business owners or corporate executives.

If hackers know whom they are going to go after, they can easily troll the Internet to match corporate records to companies, phone numbers and official web sites for email addresses. All of these trails can lead to Facebook, Twitter, Linkdin and other social accounts.

This information, especially innocent social postings about vacations, hobbies, etc., can give scammers a good knowledge of their target beforehand.

The title of this is based on a call that I actually received about a week ago, which started with exactly that sentence.

I had heard of this scam before, where the scammers hope they can convince whoever picks up the phone that there is a serious issue. The call also came in at lunchtime, but that could be coincidence.

Never allow anyone you don't know
install anything on your computer.

The caller, with a strong foreign accent, identified himself as 'Steve' calling from Las Vegas. He said they had received a security alert from one of the Windows PCs in our company that it was infected and sending out personal information.

I could not resist stringing him along, so my first response was a performance that could have won an Emmy. "Oh no, what information?"

He replied, "very personal information about someone called Terry Young, about recent vacation credit card charges. I need to help you resolve this issue now."

Steve had obviously seen my recent Facebook vacation pictures.

His next move was to tell me every second counted because the computer was about to spontaneously combust from being infected with viruses.

So I pretended to walk to Terry's office computer, (I had not identified myself) and after keeping him waiting while the imaginary PC started up, he had me load the Windows Event Viewer.

The viewer shows pages of errors and alert messages, none of which were caused by viruses.

Now to reel this fish in. I acted shocked that the computer could be in such a bad way and asked what I could do about it.

This is when Steve pushily announced that I must go online and download some software so he could take control of my PC and fix the problem before it was too late.

He wanted a credit card number to do this. Other reports say these scammers use such access to ultimately deactivate any virus checkers or firewalls so they can install background programs.

At this point I told Steve that he was breaking up, and I told him I would talk to my local IT guy immediately.

The bottom line on such calls is to never allow anyone you don't know install anything on your computer. If you have doubts about your security, hang up and call a local tech support company. Tell them who called you, what they said and what they wanted you to do.

An ethical and reputable IT support company will recognize this as a scam, or at least come out and scan for viruses.

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