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Web scams that could fool you

PC securityMaintain your PC properly and keep your antivirus software up to date and you needn’t fret too much about malware bringing it down. So goes the mental mantra many of us work by.

The MSN website recently ran a story about fake antivirus installers, but the responses made it clear that many of us think we are above web scams. Numerous commenters claimed to know more than the scammers. Similarly, most of us know enough about how the internet works and the form malware takes to avoid clicking on unverified links or respond to spurious emails.

The trouble is, it isn’t only traditional viruses out to get you. It could just as easily be a confidence trick or simply an approach you’ve not previously encountered.

Back in 1999, when we first got home broadband, my partner and I spent a frustrating few hours trying to connect to Pixelon.com, a site that was broadcasting a live concert by The Who. All we needed to do was click in the middle of the screen and the concert would eventually appear. Knowing what we now do about the bandwidth required to broadcast live TV – let alone the legal complexities involved in transmitting a high-profile event internationally – the concept was a non-starter. But back then, we knew little of the internet and had no reason to suspect that anything other than technical challenges were preventing our ability to view the show.

Years later I came across a video titled The Who: The Vegas Job. The broadcast had been part of a $10m scam that tripped up the band as well as their fans.

Many web tricks are much less focused and far more straightforward. These days, you just don’t know what your friends are going to forward or share with you on Facebook – or how much to trust it. Quizzes and games embedded into our favourite websites, details of our postings on social networks and seemingly innocuous diary and status update listings can all be used against us – and are routinely used to profile us for marketing purposes. Comment on a friend’s link on Facebook and you’ll magically see adverts suggesting you ‘like’ the brand with which it’s associated. Context-based adverts will appear beside your profile along with your apparent endorsement. You may not mind, but it all helps to give credence to the product.

Clever tricks

What would happen if Microsoft called you up and told you your PC was riddled with viruses and it was keen to help you rid your machine of them? Over the past year, a number of PC Advisor readers have contacted us or reported on our forums that they’ve received calls purporting to be from Microsoft and suggesting an upgrade to full-fat Windows 7 is the only way to proceed. In return for your ‘upgrade’, you can expect Trojans and drive-by downloads that will no doubt log your banking and password details and exploit your identity. Playing on a trusted name and the vague awareness surrounding remote-access tools, this brazen confidence trick has caught out several trusting souls.

As we detail in our in-depth guide to the scams you thought you knew and those you don’t, it’s a scary world out there. Don’t assume you know it all. You can read all about it in the latest issue of PC Advisor, on sale today.

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