If someone calls you unexpectedly and tells you that your computer has a virus, put the phone down immediately and report the caller - it's a scam.
The 'your PC has a virus and we can fix it' scam has claimed many victims and can be very serious if you are affected. Victims can lose data, have their computers infected with a virus by the scammer, have their personal data stolen and lose money.
How this scam works
The caller will usually claim to be from Microsoft, 'PC Windows Support' or an Internet Security software provider. They will tell you that there is a virus on your machine, and that they can remove it and protect you from further virus attacks.
They'll gain control of your PC by asking you to download a piece of 'support' software and log in to your computer. Once they have remote access, they'll demonstrate to you where the virus is by navigating to a folder on your computer. They'll then tell you that you can sign up for a six or twelve month service contract with them which will protect you from further viruses. If you agree, they'll ask you to make a transfer or take your card details. This 'service' will then turn out to be useless and you may find it very difficult to remove any software that was installed as part of it.
In truth, there never was a virus on your computer - the folder or files shown are a normal part of your computer's operating system and the software you downloaded allows the scammer to take control of your PC. Your data is at risk and they can install spyware, viruses or other malware on your machine.
Likely effects of this scam
- your computer will be hacked and malicious software installed
- your data is at risk of being stolen, deleted or corrupted
- you will lose money if you sign up to their 'service contract'
- your card details (if supplied) will be used to make other fraudulent transactions and sold on to other scammers
Protecting yourself against this scam and mitigating its effects
- hang up and report the caller
- do not give the caller access to your pc
- if you have downloaded any software, disconnect your computer from the internet immediately
- Using a different computer, change all of your online account passwords
- Run (legitimate!) anti-malware software scans on the affected computer to remove any viruses or spyware. If you are not sure how to do this, or are in any doubt as to whether malware is still present, take your computer to a professional IT technician
- If you have signed up to the scammer's service contract, contact your bank and stop any future payments. You can also ask your bank to try charging back the original payment - you might be able to get your money back