Remember Flip Wilson and his skit where he said “The Devil Made Me Do It?” Well, I can’t help but think of that whenever I hear someone reacting to a pop-up on their screen.
First, I thought pop-ups were all but gone. You used to go to a particular site and suddenly like 50 windows would pop open – mostly pictures or ads. Once browsers became more intelligent, they caught all of that in the background and we really didn’t notice them anymore. The new pop-ups are more insidious than those. The are in the form of message boxes or just off the screen chat looking windows or nasty skull and crossbones warning messages telling you you are infected or something awful has happened to your computer. Personally, whenever I do see one of these messages I usually investigate it a little trying to see where the message is coming from, or instead I just open up task manager and kill all of my Chrome or Internet Explorer tasks and start over.
What I am actually surprised about, however, are the number of people who follow-up with whatever the message told them to do. I was involved in two similar stories lately and heard about a third. The first two were almost identical. The user sees a popup telling them something is wrong or that their banking password is goofed up or that they have some similar issue, but instead of closing out the browser or just turning off their machines, both people actually called the number on the screen! The first case ended with “someone moving my mouse all around and then my machine wouldn’t boot up anymore” and the second ended with “the guy was in my machine working and said I needed to pay him $300 to finish up”. While I know you might be thinking this really can’t happen, let me assure you – both of these really happened. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Here are a two 30,000 foot tips for most users:
#1 – NEVER call numbers that randomly pop-up on your screen. Who does that? Microsoft isn’t going to ask you to call them for anything. It’s probably not them.
#2 – DON’T let people into your computer if you don’t know who they are. I really wasn’t even up on the idea that random strangers could get into your system in the first place. Certainly, I’ve used remote access software before, but I didn’t really expect people to randomly connect. If you ever get a notice like this and you don’t know the person – DON’T let them connect to your computer. You can always hit the power switch in a pinch if you can’t otherwise disconnect them.