Do Scammers Have Remote Access to Your Computer?

Last Updated on April 30, 2024

Computers have become an integral part of our daily lives, whether for work, entertainment, or everyday tasks. But in this digital era, we can’t afford to be careless. 

Most people do not have the knowledge necessary to successfully prevent or mitigate cyber threats.

Right now, as you go about your usual computer activities, there’s a possibility that scammers have already gained remote access to your system without your knowledge. (Yes, the possibility is high. I’m not exaggerating.)

As you go about your computer activities, there are certain signs that you may or may not recognize. Meanwhile, scammers with remote access to your computer can freely access your files and sensitive data, install tracking software, steal your passwords and financial information, and infect your system with malware.

This can lead to disastrous consequences on many different levels. The most important thing is to be able to tell decisively if scammers have remote access to your computer by learning to read the signs

Here, we will discuss how scammers can gain remote access to your computer, how you can tell if your computer has been compromised, and a series of important curative and preventive tips to help you avoid such a scenario.

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How Scammers Can Gain Remote Access to Your Computer 

Scam Phishing Fraud

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There are MANY ways for scammers to obtain remote access to your computer. While there are some established methods, scammers are also regularly coming up with new, innovative ways to do this.

This means that while you can put safeguards in place against standard approaches, you must cultivate a security-focused mindset for your daily computer use. It is a good idea to stay on guard to protect your data and finances whenever you turn on your computer.

With that said, here are a few standard ways for scammers to access your computer remotely. Learning about these methods and how they operate is one of the best ways to equip yourself for safety.

Scammers can use multiple techniques to gain access to your devices and data. Two of the most common methods are phishing scams and tech support scams

With phishing scams, scammers recreate the website or online portal of a reputed company you do business with, getting every design detail right. They then communicate with you, voicing a request or operation that requires you to log into that service. They only send you a link to the phishing website instead of the official login page. 

When you use that page to try and log in to your account, the scammers have your username and password.

Similarly, tech support scams prey on those who are not tech-savvy and require computer assistance, especially while troubleshooting. Scammers offer remote tech support in these cases and ask you to install remote access software on your computer. Once you share your remote access credentials, they access your computer and all your files.

Scammers can use a lot of other techniques to access your devices. These include social engineering scams, trying to install malware on your devices, hacking your home Wi-Fi network, and many more. 

Moreover, they regularly develop new, unique, and innovative methods to worm their way into people’s devices. For this reason, being safe and secure is often down to a security-focused mindset and adopting certain best practices.

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Signs that Your Computer May Have Been Compromised

The most important part of staying protected is being able to tell if your computer has been tampered with and taking immediate action. To do this, you need to be able to recognize the signs.

Here are a few things to look out for during daily use that can tell you if scammers have already been at work.

Slow Performance

In most cases, scammers gain remote access to your computer by installing some kind of code or application. When this is accomplished, they might also install additional software to your computer to track your keystrokes, steal your data, or infect your computer with malware.

This software is resource-intensive, running all the time in the background and taking up many of your computer resources like CPU and RAM. The result? The performance of your computer takes a hit. You should easily observe and detect this during your daily use.

When using your computer, look out for performance issues. Are your typical daily tasks taking more time to complete? Is your browser, word processor, or media player taking longer to load? Is performance choppy and inconsistent? All these are telltale signs of a compromised computer.

You can hit CTRL-SHIFT-ESC on your Windows computer to check your resource usage and consult the Task Manager. This shows a list of currently running processes on your computer, along with CPU, RAM, disk, and network consumption data. If any of these parameters are higher than usual and you see more processes in the list than normal, it might be the work of scammers.

Pop-ups and Unusual Error Messages 

Often, due to the intrusion of scammers, your computer’s internal defenses kick in and start trying, at least in part, to deal with the intrusion. It is also possible that some of the software or code that scammers introduce to your computer meddles with the core operating system, forcing it to glitch out in specific scenarios. Malware or adware can also lead to intrusions.

While using your computer, watch for pop-ups and unusual error messages. In essence, you are looking for intrusions outside the norm. A few pop-ups you have never seen before or error messages that do not usually appear on your computer should be warning enough for you to start taking mitigation measures.

When you see error messages, you can look at the error codes and search the internet for the source. If the errors primarily concern the integrity of your system files or operating system, it is a major red flag. 

Unexplained Changes to Your Computer 

Another good way to tell if your computer has been tampered with is to see if there are any changes in the software or files you cannot put down to your actions or usage. You should be on your guard if you see your files change places or disappear or new files and folders cropping up in areas where they should not be.

During your daily use, if you spot your files having changed places, unexplained extensions installed on your browser, or new software, you must look closer. An excellent place to look is your Program Files and Windows folders. Look for additional folders with random names that were not there before, and you should know for sure if your computer is being tampered with.

Another place you can check is the list of startup programs. To access this, start the Task Manager on Windows and navigate to the “Startup Apps” tab. Here, you should see whether foreign software has been installed and set up to start with the operating system.

Suspicious Network Activity 

Security Privacy Policy Digitization

Image by Gerd Altmann

Scammers with remote access to your computer will often install software to your computer that communicates with the scammers over the network. The result is more traffic on your network that hogs your bandwidth and decreases your network performance. Check your network activity for red flags if you see a sudden drop in download speeds or browsing performance.

Again, the Task Manager under the “Performance” or “Resource Monitor” tab is the place to check this. Here, you can check your network traffic and go deeper to study the processes with the most traffic. You can then decide if these are standard Windows processes, processes from installed software, or foreign software you do not know about.

From there, you can end the foreign processes and see if they crop back up, as they are likely to do if scammers have set them up for constant communication with remote access.

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What to Do If You Suspect Scammers Have Remote Access to Your Computer 

You should immediately act if you notice one or more of the above red flags. The earlier you detect an intrusion, the better your chance of mitigating the damage

Disconnect from the Internet

First and foremost, you should take your computer offline immediately. Scammers rely on your internet connection to maintain remote access to your computer. With an offline computer, their access is immediately revoked.

To do this, detach your network cable from your computer. You can disable your Wi-Fi adapter from your network settings if you are on Wi-Fi. From there, you should only bring your computer back online when the intrusion has been adequately dealt with. 

Scan Your Computer for Viruses and Malware

Computer Virus Trojan

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Next, you should check if the scammers have already infected your computer with malware. This is often a way for scammers to ensure that remote access to your computer is maintained over time, even after disconnection from the internet. To ensure that does not happen, you need to clean your system thoroughly, removing all traces of malware.

Restart your computer and run a malware scan. On Windows computers, you already have access to the native Windows Defender component. If you are using a third-party anti-virus or anti-malware solution, set it to run a thorough scan that covers your entire system, including any other drives attached to it.

After the scan, go through all the positives, disinfect the affected files. If that fails, you need to delete the files outright. If you see files that are usually a part of your operating system core in the list of infected files, you must format your drive and reinstall your operating system. 

Change Your Passwords

Next, you need to make sure that your online accounts are not compromised in any way. A good idea is to change all your passwords immediately. This can be made a lot easier if you have a dedicated password manager. 

Since your main computer is offline, you need to use another system to do this. You can use a laptop computer or your phone, taking care to choose secure passwords that contain both lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers, and special characters.

Contact Your Bank or Credit Card Company 

If you can detect an intrusion early enough, you should be able to intervene before the scammers can get to your finances. Still, it is a good idea to contact your bank or credit card company and ask for any sign of suspicious activity. You can also use your bank or credit card app on your phone to check for spurious transactions.

You can ask your bank or credit card company to put a temporary hold on your accounts. This allows you the time to sort out the situation without having to worry about your finances taking a hit in the meantime.

Report the Scam

If your computer has been compromised and you see sure-shot signs of stolen personal data or financial fraud, you should immediately report the scam to the relevant authorities. Learn in advance where to report scams and keep the contact information of those authorities handy in case you need to make a quick report in the future.

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Prevention Tips 

While knowing what to do if scammers have obtained remote access to your computer can save you trouble during a crisis, overall, it is a much better approach to your privacy and security to have preventive measures in place that deter scammers from intruding on your computer in the first place. 

Install Anti-virus Software

Sign Security Coat Of Arms

Image by Gerd Altmann

Malware is one of the main concerns when scammers affect your computer. It would be best if you had your defenses in place against malware and adware, and the right way to go about it is to install anti-virus software.

Windows computers come with native protection, which might be good enough for most use cases. If you want more protection, check out a commercial anti-virus solution. Most of these come with additional security measures like firewalls, browsing protections, and heuristic scanning, along with the means to lock down core files essential to your operating system so that these remain unaffected. 

After installing a suitable anti-virus, it is also essential to keep it updated. Most commercial solutions receive regular or daily updates, helping them stay ready for new, innovative threats.

Keep Your Operating System and Software Up to Date 

Scammers often find the means to get remote access to your computer through security vulnerabilities and loopholes in your operating system and installed software. Software manufacturers are constantly plugging these holes through updates and patches. Ensure your operating system and every piece of software installed on your computer remain updated at all times.

You can periodically check the update release schedule of your operating system and other software and run updates accordingly. Operating system updates and updates for your browser software are particularly important if you want to stay secure. Do the same with your phone OS and already installed apps.

Use Strong Passwords 

Always use strong and secure passwords to protect your online accounts from hacking attempts. Ideally, passwords should be long and complex, including lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers, and symbols. If you have a password manager installed on your devices, you can have it suggest and save strong random passwords for your accounts. Change your passwords regularly, and ensure you avoid repeating the same password for multiple accounts to stay safe.

Be Cautious of Suspicious Emails and Phone Calls 

If you think of the most-used entry points that scammers use to gain access to your system, it is usually a suspicious phone call, message, or email that starts the process. Whenever you encounter this, it is prudent to exercise caution.

Avoid any scenarios involving you clicking a link or opening an email attachment you are unsure about. Similarly, be wary of software or extensions that do not come from a legitimate source. Avoid installing remote access software on your computer and turn off any remote access features that might be integrated into your operating system.

Invest in Identity Theft Protection

When scammers gain remote access to your computer, identity theft is one of the most pressing concerns. This way, the scammers can do real, sustained damage. You can protect yourself from identity theft by considering a premium identity theft protection service

Such services can help you protect your personal and financial data, alert you when a breach occurs, and help you with the right resources when you fall victim to identity theft. 

Many identity theft protection services, such as Aura, also come with anti-malware, firewall, and VPN solutions that can further enhance the protection of your devices and mitigate common vulnerabilities to outside attacks.

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Final Thoughts

Overall, scammers getting remote access to your computer and using that access to carry out nefarious activities is a genuine and critical concern. It would be best if you did everything you could to prevent such a scenario from ever taking place. However, if something like this does happen, using this information puts you in a better position to do what is needed and secure your device, data, and finances.