How to protect your computer from phishing scams

How to protect your computer from phishing scams

Phishing is constantly evolving as devious little minds work overtime trying to think up new ways they can scam you out of your hard-earned money, either by conning you into giving up private information about yourself, or by getting you to click on links or attachments that contain viruses. 

Here are four of the most common phishing scams and what you should know to stay informed and ahead of the scammers:

1. Pretending to be the IRS.
There have been several scam e-mails sent out over the years, including a “tax refund” or a “rejected tax refund,” to an “IRS business complaint,” which supposedly comes from someone who has complained about your business to the IRS, and then offers arbitration services to help solve the complaint. 

What you should know: The IRS has stated several times that they will never e-mail you to request personal information. Don't open any attachments or click on any links in the e-mail.

If you do get an e-mail like this, you can forward it (with no modifications or changes) to for them to investigate further. Then immediately delete the message from your inbox.

2. Pretending to be Fed-Ex, UPS or any other delivery service.
We've all received e-mails from delivery companies letting us know our package was undeliverable. Wait, that's not right! Don't click on that attachment or link. 

A popular way for scammers to get information from you is to pretend to be a delivery company. They'll inform you that the package they just tried to deliver didn't make it and they want you to download the receipt to print out and bring it to the local office so you can get your package. Unfortunately, that attached document is a virus and now they have control over your computer. 

What you should know: Much like the IRS, delivery companies almost never contact you directly. Unless you've signed up to get e-mail notifications on specific packages, they don't know who you are or what your e-mail address is. 

Remember that you get tracking information from the company you bought the item from, not from the delivery company they hired to do the job. Don't click on those links or attachments and delete the e-mail immediately.

3. You've been tagged in a video on Facebook.
You get an e-mail or Facebook message saying you've been tagged in a video on Facebook, but when you click on the link it takes you to a webpage that asks for you to download a plug-in or extension in order to view the video. 

That plug-in or extension is actually a virus that will allow a hacker to access all of your web browsing history, including those pages where you've allowed your browser to save your password like your e-mail and Facebook. It then sends out the exact same message to your friends, in the hopes of spreading the virus and getting more information. 

This one is particularly tricky because it blocks your access to the settings in your browser that would allow removal and it also blocks all access to websites that offer virus removal software. 

What you should know: Facebook hosts all uploaded videos on their site directly, so you shouldn't have to click on a link or download anything in order to view videos your tagged in on Facebook. Delete any messages that look suspicious and notify the friend that you think they've been hacked. 

If you accidentally clicked on the link in the message, immediately close the browser page and don't click on any “download” or “allow” buttons.

4. Various money matters.
Your bank is notifying you that they've been compromised and they've suspended your account until you reactivate it by clicking the link. Your recent ACH transfer has failed and they need you to click on a link. Your recent payroll deposit has failed and they need you to click on a link. 

By now you know that these links are not good. The link (or sometimes an attachment) will download a virus onto your computer if you click on it.

What you should know: Call the bank/company directly and ask them if they've sent you an e-mail recently. Delete the e-mail as soon as you can and don't open any links.

One last bit of advice: Most people know to be on the look-out for these types of scams on their computers, but do you know they can happen on your cell phone, too? 

If you do find that you've clicked on a link or attachment and you feel you might have a new virus on your computer, contact a reputable computer repair company to remove the virus.  

About this Angie’s List Expert: David Trifiro is the manager of Layer 2 Computers, providing computer service in Springboro, Ohio. Since 2007, Layer 2 Computers has specialized in computer diagnostics and repair, wireless network installation and troubleshooting, data recovery and backup, virus removal and more. You can follow this #ALExpert on Twitter @Layer2Computers.

As of September 4, 2013, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.

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