Hello, Geeks! Even though this is publishing on Jan. 13, it is still my first column written in 2018, so I’d like to wish you all a joyful and prosperous New Year, filled with smoothly operating tech devices and minimal system errors. Don’t forget, I.G.T.M. is more than a computer help feature. I cover any and all aspects of technology, and tech is flowing out to the masses faster than most of us can keep up. So send in your questions, and I’ll be happy to try and bring some sanity to your crazy high-tech life! Meanwhile ...
Q: I am ashamed to be writing this question due to my stupidity. I got a pop-up saying that my computer had been hacked. I was not able to get rid of it and it said do not shut down computer as it would render it inoperative. It had a number to call for help, said it was a Microsoft number, well I called it and got help. He wanted to call me back, which he did immediately. Claimed he was Microsoft and asked me to do a couple of key strokes, he got control of my computer. End result I got charged $299.99 for this service. Come to find out they sent a contract from a company called ProtectEra. I did not know if this was legit so took my laptop to a local repair person and had everything removed, hopefully. My question is have you heard of this company? Their number for service is (redacted). ProtectEra's address is: 116 Village Blvd, Suite 200, Princeton, NJ 08540
— Roy W., Niceville
A: Don’t be so hard on yourself, Roy, you just got fooled. If people didn’t fall for these scams, the low-lifers that perpetrate them wouldn’t keep making the attempt. I’ve seen this scam before, though it may or may not be the same group. The ones putting on this show seem to have made an entire business out of it. I’ve never heard of ProtectEra before, but I did a little research on your behalf.
These guys have a legitimate-sounding name, a toll-free callback number, and a web presence, all intended to make them look like a legitimate business. However, when you start looking a little closer, the facade falls apart. For example, there is a way to look and to see who owns a particular website. Every site on the Worldwide Web is registered at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, commonly known as ICANN. This data is publicly available, and performing a lookup of this information is called a “WHOIS” search. You can go directly to ICANN’s website at ICANN.org, and at the bottom of the right-hand navigation pane, you’ll find a link labeled “WHOIS.” Click there, and enter “protectera.com” into the search bar, and click “Lookup,” you’ll see that if this is indeed a business, it’s very oddly put together. The URL was registered through a domain clearinghouse, where it was probably purchased for a couple of dollars. No company information for “ProtectEra” is listed in the registration information. The address and phone number are those of the domain seller.
I also used Google and Google Maps to research the address you supplied. Not surprisingly, that is the address of another company whose business line is leasing office spaces. They actually operate out of Suite 200.
So, suffice it to say that the company is not legitimate. Of course, the dialog box you saw also was bogus. I will go further and say that any dialog that pops up and says it contains a phone number for Microsoft is phony – Microsoft does not provide support in that manner. Never, ever click on such a dialog, and never, never, NEVER call the number, and don’t ever let anyone you’re talking to on the phone have access to your computer, no matter how legitimate they sound.
You’ve done the right thing by having the junk professionally removed from your PC. Learn from the lesson, and follow the advice above, and you should be protected in the future.
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