One of my favorite Saturday Night Live skits from the 70’s is “The Land Shark”. The shark tried to trick people into opening their door so he could gobble them up. The land shark would pretend to deliver flowers or candygram. Or make the unsuspecting victim believe he was a gentle dolphin. In the end, everyone opened their doors and met the same fate. They all fell for it. And as funny as it sounds, it’s not too different than what happens today, online.

I often hear stories of people seeing warning messages on their computer. These messages inform the user to call a phone number to help resolve the problem. And to resolve it, users need to provide a credit card number to this unknown person. These people are trusting what their computer tells them. But like the land shark, it isn’t always what it seems.

It’s normal for your computer to provide you with ongoing information. You may see messages like “this operation could not be executed“, or “this app needs to quit.” But digital land sharks are crafty. They, too, put up webpage pictures that look like one of your computer’s pop up messages to trick you.

They’re good, so don’t feel bad if you think they’re real. They aren’t making your computer show you an actual error message. Instead, they’ve made a photo that looks like an error message, in the hopes you respond. These are not legitimate errors. This is the digital land shark pretending to be delivering flowers, when he’s actually trying to break in.

Remember in spy films when the hero puts a photo of a hallway in front of the security camera monitoring it? Same principle, but on a digital scale. They want access to your computer, so they can find information like your credit card number. And before you know it, unknown charges start occurring.

Screenshot of MACDefender and Cryptolocker trojans

So what can you do if a message appears, warning you of a virus—or that something is wrong? Use ‘Bobby’s Third Rule of Tech-Support’ and seek a higher power. If you’re unsure of something that’s going on with your computer, consult with a known expert. A person who you can verify as legitimate and who knows more than you about computers. Get that second opinion before calling any numbers on the screen. And definitely before giving your credit card number or access to your computer.

I’m the computer guru (or “tech support”) for my family—as well as a close group of friends. I don’t always have all the answers, so I have a series of trusted sources that I reach out to when I get stuck. If you don’t have a friend to turn to about this, then use reputable resources (not that guy on Craigslist). For example: for Mac owners, use the Genius Bar at Apple Retail stores, or AppleCare phone support. For PCs, call Microsoft or the PC manufacturer, like Dell, ASUS, etc.

Screenshot of Malwarebytes app for Mac

And for further peace of mind, try downloading a known security app for your computer. Mac owners aren’t prone to viruses like PC owners—but malware does exist. For that, try Malware Bytes. It removes Adware, Malware, and Trojans, and it’s free! PC owners need a bit more protection. Luckily, you have lots of options. But Kaspersky, Bitdefender, and Symantec Norton are a few that rank as the best option.

Now that you’re protected, you’re free to enjoy your computer even more.

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