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Would You Give Your Wallet to a Stranger?

If someone were to walk up to you on the street and ask you for your wallet, would you hand it over?

I’m not talking robbery here. I mean that someone you’ve never met before simply walks up, gives you what sounds like a semi-plausible reason, and asks for your wallet.

Would you hand it over?

Of course not.

And yet when it comes to computers, I hear of people doing much, much worse almost every day.

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The “your computer is causing errors” scam

I am, of course, referring to the increasingly prevalent scam where someone:

  • Calls you.
  • Says that they’re from Microsoft, your ISP, or some other official-sounding source.
  • Tells you that your computer is “causing errors” of some sort on the internet, or gives you some kind of indication that your computer is somehow the cause of some problems.
  • Have you verify this situation by pointing out the large numbers of errors shown in Event Viewer.
  • Offer to fix it for you by taking remote control of your computer.

Don’t do it.

It’s a scam. It’s a trap. These people are lying to you.

Spread the word!

Because this is such a common scam and people are being duped frequently, permission is given to reproduce this article1 with two conditions:

  • It’s reproduced in full.
  • It includes attribution in the form of a link back to, or mention of in venues where linking doesn’t apply.

Spread the word. Save someone the grief.

It’s all about trust

Whenever we give someone else access to our computer, we’re placing a tremendous amount of trust in that individual:

  • We trust that they know what they’re doing.
  • We trust that they have the ability to fix whatever it is that needs fixing.
  • We trust that they won’t recommend things we don’t need.
  • We trust that, if we’re paying them, we’re paying a reasonable amount.

In short, we trust that they’re really here to help us.

But the trust actually runs much deeper than that:

  • We trust that they won’t go poking around on our computer looking at things that aren’t involved in their repair or assistance.
  • We trust that they won’t make copies of things from our computer.
  • We trust that they won’t steal information from our computer.
  • We trust that they won’t install malware that spies on us after they’re done.
  • We trust that they won’t do something malicious to our computer and then hold it hostage.

Those scammers? They’ve been known to do all of these things to those who unwittingly trusted them.

Stranger danger

Hand Over Your WalletHonestly, this applies to anyone whom you’re considering have help you. Be it the techie friend, the computer repair person, or the applications-support person you’ve contacted, you’re placing all that trust in them as well.

Do you trust them?


Make sure you have a clear understanding of the answers to both of those questions before you hand over the keys to your kingdom. If you find yourself waffling on either, consider looking elsewhere for help.

And for pete’s sake, if someone you don’t know calls you and offers to “help”? Hang up!

Actually handing over your wallet is safer

You know, it’s actually safer to hand over your wallet to a stranger than it is to let a stranger take control of your computer.


You know what’s in your wallet.

Even if you get it back, you immediately know what’s missing, and you know what needs to be done. Credit cards need to be cancelled. Replacement ID cards need to be ordered. A new photo of the spouse, kids, and pets needs to be printed.

You know that your new wallet, with your new cards, is completely within your control.

That’s simply not true if someone compromises your computer. Once they’re done, you don’t know what’s missing, you don’t know what’s been added, and you don’t know what’s safe.

That’s a lot of “don’t know”.

Instead, don’t do it. Or rather, make absolutely certain you know and trust the individuals that you give access to your computer.

Do this

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Footnotes & references

1: See the Ask Leo! terms and conditions for information on sharing other articles.

34 comments on “Would You Give Your Wallet to a Stranger?”

  1. I have fun with them. I tell them I live in the country and my phone is up a pole so they will have to bare with me while I go back and forth to my computer. After about 3 trips up the pole they have hung up. A low-tech solution to a high-tech problem. A gig I remember from a old TV program. Green Acres.
    I got a good laugh from the show back then then, and another now at the scammers. Anything that will waste their time and money looks good on them. They must spread the word because I haven’t been up that pole for a long time now.
    Thank for such great articles Leo.

    • I play along, too. On my home Linux box, I just can’t see the Event Log, no matter how carefully they explain what I need to do! The record so far is 20 minutes of their wasted time.

      • What’s the worst thing that can happen to a scammer or telemarketer? That you immediately hang-up on them? No, that’s the 2nd best thing (topped only by scoring a hit). If you’re not going to “buy” they want to move on to the next victim ASAP. The worse thing is that they spend a lot of time on the call to no avail.

        Like Wilson and Jon, I have a bit of fun. Not just with these scammers, but with most telemarketers in general. When I get one of these calls, in a very upbeat voice I thank them and say, “let me get to my computer”. The mute button then goes on, and I see how long it takes for them to die on hold. I’ve actually had some call back to say we got disconnected, to which I again thank them, fearing that I had lost my “opportunity”, and tell them that I’d get right back to my computer (mute).

        Obviously, you don’t want to do this if you need your line, or pay for service by the minute. If more of us did this, maybe their “industry” might create its own “Do Not Call” list.

        • I agree with doing that for phone scammers, as it is actually protecting a few others form being called, but as much as I dislike telemarketers, they are just normal people doing their job. I just politely say I’m not interested and then hang up. Of course, since I’ve registered with the No Call list, I report them to the Feds.

          • Telemarketers are not “just normal people doing their job”. They are people who did not finish their education, nor stay with a productive job, long enough to learn to do productive work. They not only are lazy, they knowingly steal our time. They are scumbags. The “support” scammers are even lower forms of life.

    • My approach to these ” Microsoft” scammers is, firstly I ask them ” what is a computer?” then I say ” you mean my TV?” and then I ask them to repeat what they are saying, sometimes I succeed to have them repeat their words twice. Then I say there is only one problem ” I never owned a computer” Most of the time they hang up by then or earlier.

  2. I currently have a contract with a tech firm in India that takes control of my computer to do what ever is necessary to correct any problems. So far, I have not had any issues with the current relationship. Recently however, they have been pressuring me to add programs etc which I find annoying and in my view unnessary. I am thinking of getting a local person, but how do I know I can trust them. What process should I go through to be certain that I am not getting a firm or individual that is trust worthy and that my information will not be compromised.

    • You really do better, in the end, to learn to take care of your computer yourself. I know a lot of great computer techs who constantly get accused of being idiots because they can’t save people from themselves. So no matter who you hire, if you keep messing up your computer you are going to have problems. The money you are throwing away on tech support could be saved and simply used for a new computer!

    • Karl,

      Ask the computer sciences teacher for the name of a high school computer whiz who could teach you to do it yourself. You’ll probably feel much safer, and you’ll be learning something, too. The kid can probably also tell you what the scammers could do if you let them.

      Preferably, let him sit near you, but you do the work. You’ll learn more.


    • I’m a huge fan of — word of mouth. Talk to other customers of the services you’re considering, or check with your local friends and see who they’re using and have experience with.

  3. I was driving one afternoon and got a call from an E. Indian individual who asked me if I had a computer. I said ‘no’. They said does anyone else in your house have one? I said ‘yes….but they won’t let me use it'(!) He started to prattle on but since I don’t like to talk on the phone when I drive, I hung up. I manage to avoid these scams because I have made it a practice to never answer my phone unless I recognize the number.

    I wait until I am at home to google the number before considering returning the call. This tells me who it might be. Nice to see what warnings others have posted.

    What I’m concerned with is leaving my laptop with a computer repair service/person. I really don’t want it out of my sight, so I am going to hire someone who will come to my house or the library (public space) so I can see exactly what they are doing. I did this many years ago. The person ended up staying for 5 hours. I found them through a computer user group.

    They updated everything and took out stuff I wasn’t using. They were trained and certified. Just between jobs. Glad they could help. If I can’t find someone this time I will just buy another computer instead. No way am I leaving my machine with any stranger. Especially knowing what I know now….

    Thanks Leo for the great tips. Really appreciate you posting them.

  4. While reading this, phone rang and guess what. “Your computer sending errors to our central server.” Not first time but timing was incredible. From background noise, a real boiler room operation.

  5. Thank you for another good and important article.

    I would add that the companies these thieves claim to be from, ie. Microsoft, Google, etc. NEVER initiate calls to users about “problems,” (although sometimes we wish they would!) so if you get such a call you know immediately it is a scam.

  6. when I get such a call if I don’t want to lead them on by pretending to be a real dummy I just tell them that I have an Apple computer and they usually hang up.

  7. I just tell them I don’t have a computer.
    The incidence of such calls has now dropped off substantially over the last year. This makes me think they are related, altho some were Chinese and some from somewhere else (India?).
    The calls stand out because there is always a delay and tinny sound when they eventually speak.

  8. When I get a call from one of these scammers, claiming to be from Microsoft, I ask them for the serial number and MAC address of the computer they claim is causing problems, because I have more than one computer. When they cannot provide the requested information that shuts them up because I refuse to proceed until they can provide the requested information. In one case I received a call from someone representing that they were from the ISP. I asked them for the MAC address and serial number of my modem as well as the MAC address of the router. That usually shuts them up. If they are too persistent I ask for a call back number which they usually won’t provide. If they do provide a telephone number I check with the ISP to see if the number is valid.

  9. If it’s convenient for me, I keep them on the phone as long as I can. My record is 25 minutes so far.
    Turning on the computer and re-booting is pretty effective at dragging it out. When it all ends I usually get a couple of swear words thrown in my direction.
    I figure the time they spend with me is time they won’t spend with someone who may be less able to understand what is happening.

  10. Hi Leo, I collect, save and read all your newsletters. I know you have covered this subject and it must be in my LEO library somewhere. I am based in Durban South Africa.
    I have bought a laptop with Windows 8 loaded and no disk supplied as usual. I later upgraded to Win8.1.
    I wish to make a simple operating system copy of Win 8.1 of the supplied and installed software on a disk or flash drive in case I have to re-install the operating system in the future..
    I do not want to make a copy of my files as I already have that done.
    Can you help and guide me please or advise me of the number of the newsletter it is handled in.
    Many Thanks, Don Macleod

    • Unfortunately, at this point, your only option is to make an image backup. It would allow you to return to the state it is in now, programs data and all. The disadvantages I see for that option are that you wouldn’t be able to sell the machine with the OS included and the backup would take up more space.

      If your computer has a factory restore program and you are ambitious, you can:
      1. Make an image backup, put that aside for a while.
      2. Run the factory restore.
      3. Make another image backup. This is essentially equivalent to what you would get with restore discs.
      4. Finally restore your system from the image created in step 1.

      You can include that image from step 1 in your normal backup rotation.

  11. I have gotten such calls, but I am too lazy to string them along so as to raise their costs. I just say, “you are lying.” then hang up.

  12. I had a call from “windows” wanting access to my computer to fix a reported problem. When I told them that I was a technician and could follow any of their directions, they told me to go to manage the computer and look for a file named crse.exe, which I am pretty sure is a virus or trojan. Just thought I would comment.

  13. Assuming that I have sufficient time I always tell them that I have 4 computers and could they please tell me which one has the problem.
    “the one connected to the internet”
    “They all are, which one?”
    I then set about describing each computer in general terms.
    You can string this kind of conversation out for some time, their time.

    • If that is exactly the filename (and being exact really, really counts in circumstances like this), I’d be suspicious. There is a valid Windows file – csrss.exe – that this file might be trying to position itself as a confusing duplicate. But without more information the filename alone is not enough to go on.

  14. It’s been quite a while since I have needed tech help, but when I did I had the tech sit beside me and guide me through what needed to be done. When problems arose again I was able to fix it myself. Anyone I have helped I have tried to do the same for them unless it was truly messed up and was going to require more time than I could afford to spend right then.

  15. I can’t generalize from the few limited examples of this I have seen; However here is what I notice. My wife and a number of other folks who worked in industries that were heavily computer dependent for otherwise “routine” operations tend to expect that the ‘Tech’ or ‘IT’ or ‘Computer Services’ guy (or gal) would notify them of problems and “fix” their machine either in person or via the network. This was fine when they worked in the above situation. When the expectation is carried home, however, things like the noted scams are likely to be more successful.
    At this point, I am the ‘Tech’ for the household. Articles like this are beyond helpful! They keep me from ‘losing it’ when otherwise intelligent folks come to me
    with situations like this. As Connie mentioned, if one does otherwise dumb things with or about your computer there is little to nothing the ‘tech’ person can do to save you from yourself.
    Keep on with your oh so incredibly helpful articles Leo! Thank you is way too insufficient.

  16. Good and fairly obvious advice. However, the situation that concerns me most is when the pc is taken over by a reputable company to resolve a complex issue, but with the possibility that the employee may be a scallywag. No real advice possible to guard you against this, but I hope that I’m wrong.

    • Reputable means having a good reputation. Ask around. You might try asking a few small businesses. Many of them have probably had some computer work done and could make a recommendation. Maybe stay away from chain stores, many have a high turnover of underpaid techs. You never know the integrity of those. A local one person shop would have a reputation to defend.

  17. this comment is totally off topic. I got one of your books for basic computer stuff. the one thing I walked away with was back up back up back up. It inspired me to tackle getting my word docs into my norton back up files finally. this week my XP windows crashed and then it rose from the dead…appropriate for easter.

    I didn’t have to worry because I knew my most important files were safe thanks to you Leo. thank you so much. beth o’malley

  18. As noted in other forums here, I have started backing up following Leo’s newest book and video’s… some weird XP issues put the fear in me.

    Recently, a couple of power outages messed with my wireless (Netgear adapter), and I also needed tech support help with my anti-virus (Avast). In the course of trying to fix everything, I discovered that both of these companies actually offer all-the-support-you-can-eat for a yearly fee. Yes, from India. And yes, you give them the keys to your car so to speak. They seem to know what they’re doing, and to be dedicated to resolving issues…

    Would you trust them? Is this too a scam?

    • It’s difficult to say. I don’t doubt that there may be good support of that ilk, but the number of scams that work in that way has made me exceptionally wary. At a minimum, if they call you – run away. If you call them, based on a reliable referral, then proceed with caution.


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