March is Fraud Prevention Month and with the COVID-19 pandemic, online fraud has been happening more frequently than ever. The Review spoke with Yves Bédard, owner of Bedtek Computers in Vankleek Hill, about how to keep your computer safe and protect yourself from online scammers.

Yves Bédard has seen the scenario many times: A customer comes in with a computer that has been hijacked, along with their Facebook account, email and other accounts. It’s almost always the same story.

“Usually they got a pop-up warning on their computer and then shortly afterwards, someone from ‘Microsoft’ called,” says the owner of Bedtek Computers in Vankleek Hill, as he rolls his eyes. “They tell you there is an issue with your computer, but they are here to help.”

The two-stage scam is extremely common online says Bédard, who emphasizes that no one should ever give out information on the phone to someone who has called them, or grant them access to their computer. But the scammers prey on the vulnerable and are very good at using fear tactics to convince their victims that it is urgent they be given immediate access.

“(They’ll) say you could lose all your family photos, but don’t worry, they are here to help you out,” Bédard says. “They’re going fishing and hopefully, you’ll bite.”

Once the hacker is into a laptop or desktop computer, they have complete control of the machine. Often they will claim to have fixed the issue, the victim will hang up the phone and believe they are now done with the person. But they’re still around, watching everything you do.

“They can be gone and still see every keystroke you are doing,” Bédard explains.

From there it is easy for the scammer to obtain passwords for various sites, including Facebook, Instagram or in the worse case scenario: email.

“If (they) take over your email, you’re in trouble,” says Bédard, noting the scammers can find just about any password through a victim’s web browser that has saved passwords and can then hijack all accounts by resetting the passwords.

“All because now they have your email and because you let them into your computer.”

Learn to say no

Most online scams can be easily avoided by learning to say no when someone calls or contacts you by email or messenger.

“Never give out your information,” Bédard stresses. “Most of the time they don’t have it and you’re the one that is giving it to them.”

“And never give anyone access to your computer. They can’t get in unless you give them the access.”

The same rules should be followed for another popular scam, where someone claiming to be from a bank, store, credit card company, or other, contacts the victim regarding a recent transaction. The caller claims to have just stopped a fraud and saved your account, but just needs some information to confirm your identity.

“They’re the bank – they should already have the information,” Bédard notes. “But people still give it out!”

Millions being stolen from region

“I believe there’s millions of dollars being stolen in the area from scammers,” Bédard says. “There’s all kinds of scams and a lot of time people are embarrassed to even report them.”

One of those is the ‘grandparent’ scam, where an elderly person receives a call or email from a relative who claims to be in trouble and needs money right away. The funds are usually asked to be sent by a service such as Western Union and the money cannot be recovered, nor the recipients identified.

Whatever the situation, the safest way to protect oneself is to verify the caller or sender of an email. And don’t give in to pressure tactics, no matter what the situation.

“Hang up, clear your head, ask a friend for advice, or whatever – that’s the big thing,” Bédard says. “They don’t want you to hang up – they’re salesmen.”

How to protect yourself

Bédard has prepared a list of what to do (and not do) if you believe you are being scammed. Here’s how to protect yourself if you receive an unsolicited call or email.

  • Give out no information. Many times, they don’t have it and you’re the one that is giving it out to them.
  • Let no one access your computer remotely unless you know them personally. They can’t get in unless you give them access.
  • Always call the original company. Look up the info and call them directly. Ask for a second opinion. Clear your head and make good decisions. It’s always pressure sale. Right now, it’s going to blow up, you will lose everything, time limited etc.
  • Watch emails and messages from couriers, particularly if you did not order anything.
  • Call someone directly if you receive an email or phone call that they want money, or they’re in trouble.
  • Practice saying no more often. If you say yes to everything you get in trouble. Saying no is very important in life sometimes.
  • Have a good antivirus. Without one, you could have software that is tracking you and stealing your info.
  • Do not store passwords on your computer. It’s convenient for you but also makes it very easy for scammers to steal every account once they get access to your computer.
  • Have a little book with passwords that is in a secured place at home.
  • Have a second authentication such as the phone or email.
  • Keep your passwords up to date and change them occasionally.
  • Never login to a link someone sends to you; through Facebook for example. That’s how scammers hijack accounts.
  • Ninety per cent of the battle is having good online habits.
  • Learn to say no. Take your time to make a decision and ask for advice. Clear your head. They are professional scammers.
  • We all know someone who has been scammed. Share this information with friends and loved ones.