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Microsoft: Always ask this one security question to avoid scams

Security cameras on the side of a buildingImage: Scott Webb / Unsplash

Your bank account is frozen. Your PC has been hacked. Your child is in jail. In each of these scenarios, the clock is ticking. You’re ready to act on the message or call—maybe frantic to, even. What’s the first thing you should do?

“Ask someone if you should continue [on],” says Amy Hogan-Burney, general manager and associate general counsel for Microsoft’s Cybersecurity Policy and Protection team, who spoke with PCWorld during the 2024 RSA cybersecurity conference in San Francisco.

Scams and other social engineering attacks expect you to fall down the rabbit hole placed in front of you—bad actors hope panic will take over, driving you to follow instructions without questioning them. Getting an outside opinion counters that tunnel vision. It serves as a strong front line defense, too.

Take the three examples above. For the first scenario, a level-headed advisor would remind you to always contact your bank directly. The second? They’d tell you to fire up your antivirus software and run scans for malware (which might be the very source of a “PC hacked!” alert). Finally for the third, you might get nudged to first call or text your kid.

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(If this trustworthy friend happens to work for PCWorld, you might end up getting a boatload of extra advice, too. Probably more than you ever wanted.)

In other words—when calm, most people can think of sensible actions. When you might not be, reach out to someone who is. Microsoft says that seasonal scams are on the rise and will likely rise with the Olympics and worldwide elections around the corner. This easy-to-remember advice is a simple way to make sure you’re as clear-headed as possible in a stressful situation and give criminals the slip.

Alaina Yee is PCWorld’s resident bargain hunter—when she’s not covering software, PC building, and more, she’s scouring for the best tech deals. Previously her work has appeared in PC Gamer, IGN, Maximum PC, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @morphingball.

Recent stories by Alaina Yee:

Best antivirus software 2024: Keep your PC safe from malware, spyware, and moreAVG Internet Security review: Reliable, budget-friendly antivirus softwareNorton 360 Deluxe review: Excellent value and strong protection

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