Cleaning up after you have been hacked or scammed

I see an increasing number of people who have been scammed either by a pop-up that appears while they are online telling them to call someone for assistance with their infected computer, or that call them on the telephone saying they have received messages from their computer and are calling to help….for a fee.

Now what?

Once you realize you have been scammed, what do you do?

This article assumes that you still have a functioning computer and that you can log in and use it. If this is not the case then you need to call someone who can help such as your local computer professional or a friend who is very into computers.

The first thing we need to address is your credit cards and passwords. If you gave them a credit card number you need to call that company and tell them you think the card has been compromised. You can also dispute any charges that person may have applied to your card. The longer you wait to do this the more of a headache it will be to clear this up, especially if you gave them the information on a debit card.

Passwords are important too. If you gave them any passwords (such as your iCloud password that you use when logging into your Mac, or Microsoft/email password you use logging into your Windows PC) those need to be changed immediately. Think hard about any information you may have given them, change any passwords they may have and make the new passwords substantially different from the old ones. Do not just add a “1” to the end of your old password or something similar.

Removing programs you don’t want

If you are on a Windows computer you need to go to where you can uninstall programs that they may have installed.

For Windows 10 right click on the flag in the lower left corner of your screen (the start menu icon as some call it) and select “Programs and Features”.

For Windows 7 you can click on the multicolored flag in a circle at the lower left corner of your screen, then click on “Control Panel” on the right side of the menu that appears. Now make sure that you are in “Category” view in the upper right side of this screen and click on “Uninstall a program”.

Windows versions from XP up through 10 all have the same basic add/remove programs screen. Click on the words “Installed on” to sort that column by date with the most recent date at the top (click “Installed on” a second time if needed to get the most recent at the top).

Look for any programs that were installed on the day the person was working on your computer and remove it. Typically this is software the person uses to remote into your computer, software that displays advertisements which they get paid for, or something similar. They may have even installed real antivirus programs such as Norton Security or McAfee Security. Why uninstall the antivirus you “paid for”? Because the best case scenario is that it is an illegal license, and the worst case is that it is hacked and may contain spyware or viruses.

I know how that sounds, an antivirus that contains a virus. Unfortunately it happens way more often than you want to know about.

Highlight the program you want removed and at the top of the list just to the right of the “Organize” button should appear another selection which reads “Uninstall” or “Change”, click that and walk through the steps to uninstall the software.

On a Mac open your Applications folder (click Finder on the far left of your dock, then select “Applications” from the list on the left). Now click the four horizontal lines stacked one on top of another in the row of icons at the top of the window. Now click the “Date Modified” column header to sort the list with the most current date at the top.

Unlike Windows machines this is not the date the program was installed but rather the last time the software was accessed. This does NOT mean that everything with a current date, or the date the scammer was in your computer, is something they installed. You need to go through the list and see if anything seems out of place and if so, drag that to the trash to uninstall it.

Final clean-up and future protection

Once you have all the software removed if you are on a Windows computer I suggest you download a real antivirus such as Avira free and another free program called MalwareBytes AntiSpyware. Install and run scans with both to make sure you are clean.

If you continue to have issues contact a professional but by and large, this is the same techniques I use to fix 90% of my customer’s machines. The scammers are typically extremely good at talking their way into your wallet but they rarely do much damage to your computer.

Good luck!