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November 2015

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Don't Dial This Phone Number!

Most people know that if somebody (e.g. “Microsoft support”, “Windows support center”, etc.) calls you and wants to warn you that your computer is infected, then this is most likely a scam. You should hang up immediately and do not give them access to your computer under any circumstances. But what if you are the one who calls customer support at Yahoo, Gmail, or Netflix? What if you do a Google search on “Facebook phone support”, find some 800 numbers in the search results, and call ... “them”, believing you’ve reached a legitimate employee of a reputable company?

Chances are good that you have called a company no better than ones mentioned above that call people at random. They will try to convince you that your computer is infected, ask for remote access to your computer, infect it, and ask you to purchase a cleanup or service plan with them. Just because you’ve found a site called “www.yahoo-support-number.com” does not mean that you’ve contacting anybody affiliated with Yahoo. The only requirement to register a particular domain name is that it hasn’t been registered already and that you’re willing to pay for the registration. Would you believe that a site called “www.claim-your-million.com” really contains instructions that will result in a million dollars being sent to your address?

Likewise, Google (or Bing, or any other search engine) is under no compunction to make sure that the matching sites returned actually contain the information that you’re looking for. In fact, any company can legitimately claim to help people with their Yahoo, Gmail, Facebook, etc. account problems and not be affiliated with any such companies. I help people with Microsoft products all the time even though I don’t work for Microsoft. I don’t claim to be from Microsoft, though. What about sites that claim to be the Yahoo, or the Citibank, or the Dell? What about false advertising? It is, in fact, false advertising - and there’s not much recourse except to be careful. You can always ask a person on the phone if they really work for that company. They may tell the truth or they may lie. Don’t expect criminals to tell the truth.


The Internet has been compared to the “Wild West”, a place where opportunities abound, the law is sometimes scarce, ineffectual, or nonexistent, and it’s hard to know who you can trust. Giving somebody control of your computer is like handing over your gun. Would you hand over your gun to a stranger – in the Wild West? Without adequate protection, a computer can be “held up” by somebody on the other side of the world. Criminals kidnap data and ask for ransom money. People sell snake oil and don’t lack for buyers.

  • Don’t give anybody control of your computer unless you know them personally or you can be sure who they work for.
  • Don’t purchase anything via Western Union, especially from an unfamiliar seller.
  • Don’t believe everything you see on the web.
  • Be especially wary of anybody you don’t know claiming that your computer is infected.
  • Don’t give anybody your password or PIN number. ("security questions" are the valid way for a company to authenticate that you are genuine)
  • Don’t give out your credit card info over the phone without a good deal of forethought.
  • Don’t realistically expect to get personal support (e.g. a real person on the phone) from a company whose service you use for free.
  • Ask support people how you can be sure that they really represent the company whose help you need. Genuine support personnel are usually trained how to answer such questions. If you get a fishy answer, try another number.
  • Rely on people you trust. Real friends are hard to come by in the Wild West.

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