Cyber criminals want access to your computer

Scammers will ask you to look for something that is maybe in a red font or something that indicates an error of some kind.

If you're a Tri-State resident who hasn't been targeted by a phone scam in recent weeks, your turn may be coming.

A new round of phone calls with the typical scamming schemes is going around the area. Like any other scammer, these callers want your money - but they'll try to get it in a way you may not have seen.

The caller will attempt to gain remote access to your computer over the internet, leaving the data on your hard drive vulnerable.

"They're extremely aggressive," Mark Murphy, a Hannibal resident who received 3 scam calls over the course of 2 days last week said.

Murphy is a former computer technician who spotted the scam immediately. He says the caller had a thick Middle Eastern accent and claimed to represent Microsoft support services.

"They try to get your money through fear - fear that maybe something is wrong with your computer," Brian Caldwell, Network Services Manager at ETC ComputerLand in Quincy said.

Caldwell says a customer will tell him they've been targeted about once a week. In the latest round of calls, the scammer will instruct the target to enter certain commands into the computer.

"They'll ask you to look for something that is maybe in a red font or something that indicates an error of some kind, and so they'll attempt to convince you need to allow them to remotely control your computer so that they can run a few commands and supposedly help you out," Caldwell said.

Those commands could allow the caller to establish a remote connection to your device. In other cases, the caller may direct the target to a website where they can download software that will establish the connection.

Caldwell warns that the situation can go downhill quickly if the target follows the instructions. Your personal information and passwords stored in the computer can be copied and sent overseas in an instant.

"You'd have no idea where they're at, where your information got to, or how much information they got before you could get your computer turned off," Murphy added.

Caldwell also says you can quickly unplug your computer if you believe your information has been compromised, or you can disable your internet connection. If you're still unsure, it's also a good idea to allow a certified technician run a virus scan on your machine.

It's important to remember that the scammers will keep calling if they believe you'll eventually go for the bait.

"If you get a phone call and the person is claiming they're with Windows or with Microsoft, they're definitely a scammer and they're definitely out to steal your identification," Murphy said.

There are several red flags to look out for if you believe you're at risk.

Caller ID can be the first line of defense against these scams. Almost always, caller ID will not match what the caller says. Murphy said his caller ID showed that his telephone provider was calling, not Microsoft as the caller claimed.

Caldwell added that Microsoft will very rarely contact a customer over the phone if the customer didn't try to contact them first. He also says it's not just Microsoft systems that are susceptible - Apple products can be targets as well.

"Your best defense is to educate yourself and to realize that if you're not initiating the request for help, then there's reason to give pause," Caldwell said.

The scammers chose the wrong target in Mark Murphy, but he hopes his story can help others spot computer criminals.