Spam calls have plagued modern society for years now and are only getting worse. With the availability of generative AI technology to anyone, bad actors have started using it for evil.
If you haven’t seen Obama playing Minecraft or Plankton from Spongebob singing Rolling in the Deep, you may be unfamiliar with artificial intelligence voice synthesis. Artificial intelligence voice synthesis is a voice changer or text to speech program that uses AI learning models to mimic someone’s voice. Think of it like when you speak through a fan and your voice sounds like Darth Vader, but instead of a fan you use a computer and now it sounds like Taylor Swift. Apple introduced an accessibility feature that uses the same tech in iOS 17 that allows for mimicry of one’s voice with less than a minute of recording. In this case, it can be used for good. For example, someone with a speech impairment can use it to talk to someone by only typing into their phone.
With all that said, this tech can also be used for some very nefarious purposes. A new trend among spam callers is using the voice of a loved one, or someone you know to trick you into giving away personal information and sending money to the scammer. This is done by taking a model of someone’s voice who is known to be connected to you and calling you with their voice. It is important to be suspicious of any call that you get from an unknown number and with this new technology, one needs to be extra careful. If you still need to answer unknown callers for work or otherwise, a common work around is to set up a code word or phrase with your loved ones and friends. For example, if I were to get a call from an unknown number with the person claiming to be my mother and sounding like my mother too, I would ask them, “Do you remember our code?” and if she responded with the code we agreed upon, I would know it is legitimate.
Overall, it is wise to be wary of any unknown phone numbers. Using common sense when receiving asks for money or other critical personal information goes a long way in stopping you from becoming the next victim in a scam.
We’ve all been here before: We run into a problem, technical or otherwise, and we’re unsure how to proceed, so what do we do? We search the internet for answers. In our search, we come across a number of results that look promising – some of them may even fit the bill exactly, and we think we have our answer. But one thing many people come across, sometimes without even knowing it, is a false search result – a listing that’s either mostly unrelated to what you’re actually searching for, or worse, a listing that is meant to deceive you into believing it’s what you’re searching for, with malicious intent. So, how can we know when we come across deceptive search results?
In both cases, many of these results can appear near the top of the lists for a number of reasons. One of the most common reasons is a practice carried on almost universally, and that is to offer higher search placement to people or companies willing to pay for it – this way, the search engine can make money and the company buying the advertising gets seen by more people who might be looking for something relevant to their services or products.The danger comes when more objective search terms get bought out by illegitimate sources, and seek to mislead people into paying for service from them that might otherwise be better or outright free from the real source. One of the biggest cases of this is in searches for a tech company’s support. Whether it be a major manufacturer like HP, Dell, or Apple, or a software developer like Adobe, Intuit, or Microsoft, many of these illegitimate companies and results are tailor-made to target people looking for help from these sources.
Below is such an example of several advertised results coming up before the “real” or “intended” listing.
As you can see, the real “Microsoft Support” shows up in fifth place in these results. In the case of any major search engine, some of these advertisers can be very dangerous. Some of the above results, for example, could be tech support scammers the same as the types who have plagued users with unsolicited calls for years. Unfortunately, if you don’t know as much, there’s a good chance you’ll run into them or those like them eventually.
Usually, the best way to handle such searches is to look for signifiers that certain results may be advertised. For many search engines, advertised results will often have a small icon underneath them that says either “Ad” or “Sponsored”. Even if it isn’t necessarily a sponsored listing, there’s always a chance it could be dangerous – so if you’re looking for support from a company, it’s usually best to go straight to the company’s website. Paying attention to the actual address below the listing’s title can save you a good deal of confusion. In the case above, the only Microsoft websites are the ones with the green address listed as “support.microsoft.com”. Keep this in mind when you’re searching.
Around this time last year, we addressed a very common trend that we were seeing involving popups and scareware hijacking people’s computers while they were browsing the internet. These popups, such as the ones below, are a facade meant to convince you that your computer is either infected by a virus or at risk of serious damage. Their main goal is to get you to either download a program that will then ACTUALLY infect your computer, or call a “Support Number” wherein a call center operator will then remotely access your computer and either lock it down and hold it for ransom or “Fix the problem” and then charge you several hundred dollars for the “Service”.
Some of the most common offenders’ designs.
Seemingly innocuous messages warning of viruses.
Imitation virus scanners claiming the presence of a number of threats.
Loud colors and bold warning messages.
We get calls every week from people encountering this issue, and the prevalence of these sorts of problems has only increased over time. They affect nearly every class of user across every platform; from Windows to Mac OS, iPhone to Android, no one that browses the internet is immune to this sort of encounter.
So what can we do about it?
Unfortunately, not much – many of these people are far outside U.S. Jurisdiction for legal action, and the diversity, profitability, and widespread nature of these types of scams make them very popular and difficult to decisively put down. As a result, the best type of security against such attacks are awareness and user preparedness. Everyone knows someone who has been assailed in such a way, so it should be important to remember how to get out of such a trap.
We won’t go through the tells that will allow you to identify such a scam as we did last time, but instead leave it at thus: ANY pop up you get while browsing the internet warning of critical errors or viruses, and telling you to download something or call someone should be looked at with extreme skepticism. As far as incoming calls go, remember this: no brand or company will ever call you – this goes for all types of phone scams going today; neither Microsoft nor Apple, Windows nor Mac, Dell, HP, or anyone else has the type of information to know you may have a virus or the capacity to be receiving errors. Additionally, they do not have the type of manpower (or even the necessary information in many cases) to cold call their customers, nor do they have any desire to do so.
There are, importantly, a few methods of escaping these popups, which are important to go over again.
Method one is available to most users running a third-party internet browser; if you are running Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Opera Chromium, the option to “prevent this page from creating additional dialogues” will be available as a little checkbox at the bottom of the notification that seems to keep opening no matter how many times you close it. Checking it and acknowledging or closing the notification one more time will prevent it from appearing again, allowing you to simply close the page normally.
Method two is available to all users, but requires you forcefully close the process of your internet browser which, if you keep multiple pages open at a time, can cause you to lose whatever you are doing on the other tabs of your web browser. On your keyboard, pressing CTRL, Alt, and Delete (DEL) at the same time on a Windows PC will allow you to open the task manager. From there, simply choosing your internet browser and clicking on “End Task” will force it to close, allowing you to simply reopen it and continue working.
For Mac users, pressing the key combination of Command, Option, and Escape (esc) allows you to activate the equivalent function, “Force Quit”. From that windows, simply selecting the program you wish to close and clicking “Force Quit” will accomplish the same result.
Method three should only be used as a last resort. It’s simple to execute, but it can potentially cause problems if you perform it while your computer is updating or installing something, and can at least cause you to lose data if you are editing documents or files that haven’t been recently saved. In this case, simply holding down the power button on either a Mac or PC will force it to shut down, and the problem should be gone upon restarting it and logging back in.
Now in some cases, especially those in which you may have inadvertently installed something, you might be afflicted with something known as a “Browser Hijacker“, or “Scareware“. These pieces of software are some of the more extreme measures such call center scammers have been using in recent years, and they usually have the effect of forcing the error message or popup to appear every time you start the computer or open your web browser. If this happens, or you have questions or concerns about such pop ups, it is usually recommended that you consult your local technician.