Steer clear of iYogi's scareware tactics

Is your PC infected with a virus? Don't ask iYogi. The India-based support firm could end up charging you big bucks to fix problems you don't actually have.

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If you've been around computers for any length of time you've probably encountered scareware -- malware that infects your computer, pops up a warning saying your machine has a virus, then directs you to a Web site where for just $49.95 you can download an anti-virus program that will fix all your problems. Fall for this ruse and you will have entered one of computing's minor hells. The best case in this scenario is that you will have dropped 50 bucks on software that does nothing; the worst case is it could infect your computer with something worse -- and oh, by the way, the scammers now have your credit card number.

iYogi isn't scareware. But the support firm uses the tactics of scareware to aggressively grow its customer base. I know this because they tried to do it to me.

Yesterday I called iYogi to see if they could revitalize an increasingly sluggish Windows XP-based netbook I've been schlepping around with me for the last two years. I learned a lot from the call, but not so much about my machine.

A support tech name Sanjib answered almost immediately. Sanjib told me to visit an iYogi Web site and download software that would let him operate my PC remotely. When I asked if I could just let him work on his own and call me back when he was done, he insisted I stay on the line. I found out why later.

Things seemed to go well at first. He ran through the usual checks of temp files and disk partitions. But I started to get suspicious when he told me I didn't have any security software on my PC. No, I said, I use Kaspersky Pure. See that red K with the arrow in my Windows Tray? I said. That's Kaspersky. Sanjib seemed unconvinced.

Things really started to get funky when he launched Windows Task Manager, showed me the applications I had running (5), then the processes currently active (52), and tried to convince me that I had somehow "picked up" the extra processes by going out onto the Internet unprotected.

Are you trying to tell me I've got 47 pieces of malware running on my system at the moment? I asked, trying to restrain my incredulity. No, he said, not malware. But he continued to insist I had picked them up somewhere on the Internet, despite my attempts to point out that Windows would stop running if I halted most of these services.

Sanjib spent another 10 minutes trying to convince me how very sick my computer was, then ran a "diagnostic program" that was supposed to detect all the problems I had been blissfully unaware of. The program discovered that I did not have anti-spyware software installed (untrue) and then crashed. He ran the program again. It crashed again at the exact same place. There, he said. The bad files on my computer were keeping his diagnostic software from working. I really needed help.

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