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I received a call from a mildly panicked friend the other day. She told me she thought she had been scammed and had already paid $200 to a person whom she called to fix her computer.

I wasn’t sure if she was referring to a physical repair job by a local repair technician or one of the online scams that are so prevalent today. Sadly, it was the online scam type.

As a computer professional, I am sure you have gotten that call from a friend or family member when they fall victim to an online scam. Perhaps it is a frantic call. Either way, we all know the sound of fear and confusion when we get that call, and we can usually predict from the first sentence what the call is about.

Caller: “I received a call from Microsoft saying that my computer is infected and they can fix it for me.”
You: Fake tech support call.

Caller: “My computer keeps displaying screens that try to sell me magical elixirs to cure all my ills.”
You: Adware.

Caller: “My computer is displaying a screen that says something about paying bitcoins to get my files back.”
You: Ransomware.

We can quickly identify those problems before our panicked caller even has time to finish their sentence. None of this is unique or new to the computer professional.

However, to the person who has reached out in fear and confusion, it is all very new. The typical computer owner can read about all the ransomware in the world, but when that event visits them personally, all the memories of those warnings about getting a good backup slip away. Remember, most people believe that it will never happen to them.

When that phone call comes to us, sometimes we get lost in our own knowledge, and we start talking all about what we know about the malware from which the caller is suffering.

This is the point where we have to stop ourselves and think like a good therapist. Rather than prattle on about what we know about a particular exploit and its attribution (as if that matters), this is a time to listen.

Take a deep breath, and let the person on the other end of the phone speak for as long as they can before you say anything. Let them know you are listening. Perhaps you can use that time-honored therapist technique of echoing some of what they say, so they know you are hearing them.

Caller: “I don’t know; I was just trying to download that new song from my favorite file-sharing site . . .”
You: “Yes, that is a very good song.”

Patiently listening has an amazing effect on a person who is feeling violated by something beyond their control. The technical solutions to most of the computer problems we encounter are fairly simple. Only after your distressed friend has finished their full exposition should we chime in with the solution to assist them.

We always remind our friends to stop and think before they click on something that can damage their computer. We wish they would just slow down! When we receive that call with that panicked voice on the other end, we should heed our own advice and slow down, as well.

A simple interjection of the words “I’m listening” are worth far more than all of the computer knowledge in the world. Many times, the art of what we do is in our ability to reach beyond the technical and “touch” the human element.

To find out more about keeping scammers at bay, click here.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc.