Protect yourself from account-draining computer takeover scams

Cyber Security
Personal Credit
Written by: Karl Peterson, SVP, Chief Information Security Officer
Illustration of a person using a shield to protect computer

You wouldn’t give a stranger the keys to your house or the combination to your safe. Likewise, be extra wary of people trying to access your computer. Criminals can use software to take over your computer remotely, see your passwords and gain access to your bank accounts and credit card information. But you can protect yourself from computer takeover scams, also known as remote access scams.

How computer takeover scams work:

Someone posing as your internet provider, a computer specialist, the government, your bank—even as the police—will call you and request access to your computer. They may claim they need to fix or assess a problem with your computer or improve your internet speed. They might even try to trick you with a pop-up window that appears on your screen warning of a security issue detected on your computer and listing a phone number to call. Scammers can be very convincing.

If you allow it, they will access your computer and install malware—software that disrupts your computer and gives them continued remote access to your device and the information on it. As part of their so-called “service,” they may offer financial compensation for the disruption and ask you to log into your online banking to see if the money has arrived. You may find yourself logging into a fake webpage that looks very much like the bank’s real site. This is the criminals’ chance to steal your login credentials and, ultimately, your money. 

How to tell legitimate companies from computer scammers:

  • Your bank, the government and legitimate tech specialists will never ask for access to your computer. We won’t contact you to request personal information, like your password and social security number, and we’ll never ask you to change your password or other login credentials on the spot.
  • Legitimate tech support companies will not contact you by phone, email or text message to say there’s a problem with your computer. They won’t activate pop-up warning windows on your computer asking you to call a phone number or click on a link.

Security tips to protect yourself from computer takeover scams:

  • Never give a stranger access to your computer. Be wary of anyone who contacts you offering to repair your computer. If you need tech support, contact a company you know and trust. 
  • Don’t click on links or call phone numbers listed in pop-up windows on your computer. Be wary of links in unsolicited emails and text messages. Never share personal information via email or text.
  • Never give information like your Social Security or account number to anyone who contacts you.
  • Beware of phishing emails. These look like they are from your bank or other reputable companies and provide a link to verify your account in some way. 
  • Don’t fall for emails, text messages or phone calls that say you owe money or your payment information is invalid—even if they threaten to cancel your service.
  • Never send money or gift cards in response to an unsolicited text, phone call or email. See how gift cards play into other scams
  • To check the legitimacy of a request, locate the company’s phone number on a reliable source like a statement or the back of your credit card.
  • Install and enable your computer firewall and update spyware and anti-virus software. Install software updates for your computer’s applications (e.g. Microsoft©, Java™ and Adobe®), and keep your smartphone software up-to-date.
  • If you observe virus symptoms like pop-ups claiming your computer is infected, disconnect your computer from the internet and run a full system scan with anti-virus software.

Learn about our commitment to client security and actions you can take to protect your computer and yourself from fraud and theft.