DENVER (CBS4) – Computer hackers claiming to be with Microsoft Services are trying to gain access to personal information.

It starts with a phone call in which someone with a heavy accent tries to rush you to log on to your computer. When you do log into your computer, they take it over, copy your hard drive, and install all kinds of spyware.

Milton Jones says that’s exactly what happened to him. He says hackers accessed his bank accounts, changed his passwords, and started withdrawing money. He says it was a nightmare that he hopes no one else has to go through.

“If I have to show the world how dumb I am so that somebody else doesn’t have to go through this, then it’s well worth it,” Jones told CBS4.

But Jones isn’t dumb. He’s the mayor of Saguache, he’s a pastor, and a county worker. He came home after a long day, believed an urgent caller and got scammed. It can happen to anyone.

“He told me he worked with Microsoft Windows support center, and he told me that my computer was being maliciously attacked and was in danger of crashing,” Jones explained.

The hacker led Jones through a series of websites and screens. Jones was convinced the hacker was on his side.

“I agreed to pay him $250 for a 7-year subscription for his service,” Jones said.

When Jones realized it was a scam, there were already two transactions coming off his debit card for more than $300. He ran a scan on his computer and found more than 400 malware and adware bytes, and two down Trojan viruses.

“They traced it to a company called X-Creations, and that company is in India,” Jones said.

“The first and most important thing that people need to do is protect their data,” said Monte Malenke, computer consultant and owner of Projectricity, a software company.

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Malenke recommends to password protect any sensitive documents you have on your calendar. Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel offer that option as you save your work. You can also lock all your passwords and account numbers in an electronic “vault” that only you can open. PasswordSafe is one of many programs that offer that service for free.

After you’ve got your data secure, you should look at securing your computer itself. Malenke recommends good, reliable anti-virus, anti-spyware software. You may need more than one program to catch all the sophisticated threats to your computer. AVG Free and MalwareBytes offer free anti-virus, anti-spyware programs.

“What I’ve seen is folks will let it lapse. They won’t keep the subscription current and the year goes buy and a million new viruses come out and they’re not protected,” Malenke said.

When your computer is protected, look at the network you’re using to access the Internet. Make sure your wireless network is password protected and make sure you have firewalls in place to keep unwanted people out.

“You don’t want someone compromising your financial security, or the big threat these days is identity theft,” Malenke added.

Next, back-up your data by keeping a copy of it in a secure place. That way if a virus does wipe out your hard drive you still have all your information. Malenke suggests CrashPlan or Carbonite which offer online back-up and storage for your information.

Malenke says email is the next big risk to people’s security. He says people send sensitive information completely unprotected through email and that opens them up to hacking. Malenke suggests that you password protect any personal information that you put in an email. Make sure you don’t include the password in the email or even send it in a separate email, but rather call the person you’re sending it to and tell them the password directly.

“Protecting your data gives you piece of mind,” Malenke said.

It’s that kind of piece of mind that Jones wishes he had before he was hacked, but feels he has now that he’s secured his computer and its contents.

“You know you don’t have to be rich for them to want to get your money. They don’t care how much money they get, they just want to get something,” Jones said.

– Written for the Web by CBS4 Special Projects Producer Libby Smith


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