Nobody knows who first used the expression, “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck; it is a duck” but they were referring to an obvious axiom to some which may not be readily apparent to others. For instance, recently someone claiming to be from Microsoft called me a number of times trying to convince me to allow access to my computer in order to fix terrible viruses and threatening to revoke my Windows license if I did not comply with them and pony up a few hundred bucks.

Being a guy who has been in the computer field for well over 40 years, my first reaction is NOT, “Oh no! Revoking my Windows license? Please! Please help me!” Yet I continue to receive calls from intelligent people saying they allowed this to happen and even paid for the bad guys to get in their computer, plant a Trojan virus or back door for future data mining and/or nefarious activities. In my customers’ defense, I do understand that these people use very high pressure and scare tactics to intimidate the computer user into complying with their demands. They prey on the fact that few people have the computer expertise to identify a scam and take appropriate actions, like hanging up.

“Other than the loss of a few hundred bucks, what is the harm in letting these people into my computer?” Plenty! One of my longtime clients called the other day, obviously embarrassed by the whole ordeal, and related the tragic story to me. He ended by saying there was no need for me to come out since he had located the offending program and uninstalled it. I said, “Are you sure?” I have seen this in many computers lately and seldom is only one program installed. In many cases, there are overt programs that are readily seen and others that are quite hidden but no less dangerous that, if not uninstalled, they will actively transmit data from your computer to the bad guys on your surfing habits, what you buy, etc. However the program is set up, rest assured your computer will be MUCH slower and more of an Internet hazard than before the programs were installed. In short; all programs installed by these despicable people need to be detected, located and removed.

Someone also told me they were going to report these people to the authorities. Great but the thing is, who do you report them to? If this was happening within the confines of the United States, we have local and federal police and the FBI to protect us and enforce the laws, but what if these people are overseas or 10 miles offshore or in another country? What happens then? Pretty much nothing, unfortunately, unless the counties that house these software engineers are willing to hunt them down and prosecute them, which is not likely.

So what do you do when you receive a call like this? Hang up! Just hang up the phone. Do not pass go. Do not collect $220. Hang up! Remember, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it is probably not a swan trying on a Halloween costume. It is most likely a duck.

“What do I do if I have already been a victim of one of these calls? Am I safe?” The short answer is, probably not. I am not trying to drum up business by saying this but if it were my computer, I would highly recommend having a professional check out your computer to ensure all the Trojan programs, back doors and other remote user programs are uninstalled and/or rendered harmless. If you do not, you run the risk of having a special gift that keeps on giving information to the owner of the program.

• Mike Smothers is president of Smothers Computer Services, based in the Ahwatukee Foothills. Send questions to or call (480) 753-7667.

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