For the inaugural blog post we thought we would take the opportunity to talk about a common scam currently making the rounds. If you have ever seen this while browsing the web, you will know what I am talking about. Usually, they are accompanied by a cacophonous and dire sounding audio warning that does not stop.
Tab hijackers are a form of cleverly designed fake viruses that convince people that their computer has been compromised. Usually, they will provide a phone number to call “Microsoft” or some other reputable brand to “clean up” the virus. Once a person calls said number, the scammers direct the victim to install a remote access program so that the scammer can “diagnose” the virus. After a “diagnostic” process (usually full of techno-babble, false claims, and catastrophic predictions) the scammers then ask for a certain amount of money, usually $200-400 to “repair” the computer, payable by credit card or money transfer. They will then attempt to hard sell the victim on why they must do this repair NOW.
Should the victim pay, the scammers usually run any number of programs, ranging from legitimate virus scanners and utilities to redundant PC tune-up programs to downright malicious malware. After they are done, they will call back, usually within a few days, saying that they have discovered another urgent problem and attempt to collect more money from the victim. Often, they will pretend to offer a refund in hopes of collecting banking information from the victim.
When they obtain a working relationship with the victim, they will often say things like “We will be closing down soon and so we need access to your computer one last time to uninstall our software.” After they get access to the computer, they will then claim to have found another problem and do another hard sell, trying to get the victim to pay even more money. All subsequent calls will use similar psychological tricks with the goal being access to the computer and another round of cash.
Should the victim refuse to pay, the scammers will typically attempt to coerce the victim into paying by threatening to lock down the computer, threatening to take over the webcam, threatening to infect all computers on the network with viruses, or threatening to turn the victim over to law enforcement.
To be clear, tab hijackers are NOT viruses! They are popups within respective web browsers that are designed to be generated over and over so that you can never click out of them. As long as you do not make the phone call to the scammers, your computer is safe and you do not need to run a virus cleanup any more than you already are.
If you have made the phone call and granted access to your computer, the best course of action is to do a complete reload of your operating system to make sure that nothing the scammers might have left behind will cause trouble in the future.
Should you ever come across another tab hijacker in the future, here are the steps for dealing with it:
If you are using Internet Explorer and/or cannot get the “Prevent this page from creating additional dialogs” box, follow these steps.
-- Josh Sutinen
2016 Sutinen Consulting