On Watch

Killing The Cockroach

Posted: Oct 24, 2012 2:57 PM ET Last Updated: Oct 24, 2012 2:57 PM ET

Computer scams can be a lot like cockroaches: they can survive anything and they can pop up anywhere.

Take the so-called Microsoft Scam.

I've been getting calls about this for more than a year from people across Nova Scotia. Someone calls them, claiming to be from Microsoft. The scammer says your computer has sent them a signal, telling them something is wrong. My favourite call on this subject came from a man who has one phone line and a dial-up modem. He told me that in his very brief conversation with the scammer, he told the caller that since they were talking on his only phone line, his computer couldn't possibly be signalling for help.

The scammers are persistent, though. They offer to fix the problem they claim your computer is warning them about. Their "fix" usually takes two forms. They either offer to sell you some sort of repair, or they say they can talk you through fixing the problem yourself.

If they sell you something, they can steal your credit card information. They can also sell you something that can damage your computer.

If they talk you through a process in which you make changes to your computer, chances are, they're getting you to disable your computer's built-in security features like the firewall and antivirus software. That leaves your computer vulnerable to hackers.

Needless to say, the callers are NOT from Microsoft. But the software giant has fielded so many complaints on this subject, it's posted answers to the most commonly-asked questions on its own website.

http://www.microsoft.com/security/online-privacy/msname.aspx

Another oldie but goody that's cropped up again in this province over the past couple of weeks is the Power Saver scam. People in the Digby Neck area tell me they've been getting calls from someone who claims to be with Nova Scotia Power. They're selling a device for $200. You simply plug it into your home electrical system and it can save you up to 30% on your power bill.

David Rhodenizer of Nova Scotia Power reminds me that the corporation was dealing with the exact same scam around the same time last year. There were so many calls, he put out a news release to warn people.

http://www.nspower.ca/en/home/aboutnspi/mediacentre/NewsRelease/2011/phonescam.aspx

If there's any consolation, we're getting a bargain. When my colleagues at CBC in Alberta reported on this same scam last year, they said callers were pricing their Power Saver units at up to $350.

If you're serious about saving money on your power bill, you can always try contacting the folks at Efficiency Nova Scotia. Sadly, they don't offer a miracle box that you plug into your house. But their ideas have the virtue of actually working.

The good news is that most of us are no longer being taken in by these scams. But the only reason the crooks keep doing this is because they keep making money at it. And since their overhead is extremely low, they don't have to fool too many people before they make a profit. So if you know somebody who may be too trusting or naive, talk to them about these scams. Maybe this time, we can stomp on the cockroach and kill it for good.

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About the Author

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 30 years in Atlantic Canada, covering everything from princes to politicians to prostitutes, and a whole lot of stuff in between. These days, he focusses on stories involving crime and public safety.

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