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Don’t be soft when it comes to scams

By STEVE ROSEN
The Kansas City Star

You may have trained your kids to protect what’s in their wallet and what’s on their computer, but that won’t stop scam artists from trying new ways to trick them.

One of the latest is called the Microsoft scam.

I hadn’t heard of it until earlier this summer when I took a phone call from someone who didn’t speak English very well but claimed to be a technician from Microsoft.

I normally hang up when I get these types of calls, especially when I hear I’ve won a prize.

But in this case I listened more intently as the caller said he wanted to help fix a virus on our home computer. My skepticism intensified when he asked whether my computer was on so he could walk me through the fix.

I asked him again whom he was with and how he had gotten my phone number, but all I got from the impostor was another pitch to fix my computer.

I hung up, figuring the “tech specialist” eventually would get to the part about giving him money or personal information to correct the computer problem.

Microsoft is very familiar with this hoax. In fact, a question-and-answer section on its website includes a long discussion about scams that use the company’s name. Besides the “tech support” fraud, here are other spins on the scam:

• You have won the Microsoft Lottery.

• Microsoft “requires” credit card information to validate your copy of Windows.

• Microsoft sends unsolicited email messages with attached security updates.

For the record, Microsoft said on its website that it “does not send unsolicited e-mail messages or make unsolicited phone calls to request personal or financial information or fix your computer.”

As for the Microsoft Lottery … well, Bill Gates is generous, but not that generous. There is no Microsoft Lottery.

“You’d be surprised by how many contact us AFTER they’ve been suckered, asking what to do,” Microsoft said on its website. “Do not waste time talking to these people; do not give them any personal information whatsoever. Do not be tricked by what they may get you to see on the computer; in fact, don’t do anything they suggest on your computer or even visit websites they recommend. And for heaven’s sake don’t give them access to your computer.”

Despite greater public awareness and more sophisticated security measures, online thieves stole more than 12 million pieces of personal information in the first four months this year, according to Experian, one of the three big credit reporting agencies. That’s up 200 percent since 2010, the agency said.

So, do your children know how to protect themselves from scammers? Here are a few suggestions from Money Management International, a nonprofit credit counseling service:

• Don’t be too public with Wi-Fi. Don’t shop, perform online banking tasks or do anything requiring the use of personal information over networks that are public. Handle these tasks over a secured network.

• Protect your passwords. Change them often and use numbers, symbols and uppercase letters. Add a passcode to your smartphone for protection.

• Use secure sites for credit card charges. Make sure the webpage where you’re conducting business begins with https instead of the usual http.

• Socialize, but don’t be too chatty. “Be selective with whom you allow to access your (social networking) sites and cautious about what personal information you reveal,” Money Management International said.

And remember, it’s better to avoid being duped than to try to repair the damage — financial and otherwise — afterward.

To reach Steve Rosen, call 816-234-4879 or send email to srosen@kcstar.com.

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