Protecting your computer from hackers that want to hold it hostage

PHOENIX - How could someone get into your computer, when they've never been in your house?

It's happening all across the Valley, and worst part is, we are inviting potential scammers into our lives without evening knowing it.

The good news is that it's easily avoidable if you know what to look for.

The con usually starts with something innocent like a phone call or a prompt on your computer to update software.

In the case of the phone call, a tech claiming to be from Microsoft or some other software manufacturer, will tell you that your computer has a virus and that they need to fix it immediately.

They'll ask you for various codes on your computer so that they can access it remotely.

That's the trap.

Because once they get inside your computer, they will take it over, and hold it hostage until you wire them hundreds of dollars to release control.

It's hard to believe that's even possible---but it is. It's also completely avoidable.

Techs won't call about your computer unless you call them first. And if they do, hang up, because it is a scam.

Another way scammers get into your computer is through fake software updates and bogus links.

Alerts to update your video player, unknown links in an email, or urgent prompts to click on links in a webpage, are your first clues that something isn't right.

Do not click on any of them--ever. Because scammers can freeze your computer that way too. They can also infect your computer with viruses that search for your personal information.

If the update is for software or a video player, go to the actual website of the maker you normally use and get the update directly from them.

And if it's a weird email, delete it. If you have concerns that it might be legit, do an internet search to see if it is a bogus email that is circulating.

If you happen to fall victim to one of these scams, don't pay! Take it to a professional right away.

Free anti-virus software generally won't keep you from getting viruses, but will alert you when your computer has been exposed.

Experts recommend looking for software that actually blocks bad sites, so you don't pick up viruses in the first place.

Also, back up your data frequently. This protects it if there's an operating system crash or virus attack. And you may want to save media in a few places and in two forms including cloud storage and USB flash drive.

Let me know about your consumer issues by emailing me at or by "Liking" my Let Joe Know Facebook Page  and telling me about it there.

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