Q: I clicked on a link in what seemed to be a legitimate website and immediately a Trojan horse pop-up came up on the screen. I tried to close down and back out, which it would not let me do so. There was a pop-up from Microsoft, with a phone number to call, advising that I needed to call them to fix the issue.

I made the call and got someone to answer. I asked them how I knew he was with Microsoft and he told me his firm was contracted by Microsoft and he was a customer service representative. He then took control of my screen and went through several steps to supposedly remove the virus. He said he now had to send me to another firm to install software at a cost of $244 to take care of the problem and make sure that hackers could not get into the computer in the future.

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I watched the full two hours what they were doing with my screen while installing. Once completed, they said the virus was taken care of and the software was installed, along with other software ABD to take care of unwanted pop-up advertisements.

The more I thought of this, I feel it was a scam, and I should not have called the number given for Microsoft. My question for you is how should I have proceeded to get rid of the virus?

Barry Kaltenbaugh

A: Yes, I strongly suspect you were the victim of a scam. The good news is that in most cases like this the computer is never actually infected. But I still recommend that you immediately run a full scan on the computer using an antivirus program. If your antivirus program doesn’t include anti-malware tools you’ll want to install an anti-malware program and run a scan with that, too. The source of that pop-up warning of a virus is likely malware residing on that website.

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If this should happen again, the first thing to do is the run a deep scan with your antivirus/anti-malware program.

Never call a number or click on a link provided in a pop-up. If you want to reach Microsoft, for example, reach out independently. Look up the company’s number or go to their website directly.

And unless you’ve reached support this way, don’t allow anyone to take remote control of your computer.

Q: Recently I was asked by the University of Washington to attest for my vaccination status and was unable to do so because at the critical point the website did not respond to my attempts to enter the dates of my vaccinations. I notified the UW tech folks and their response was that I should upgrade my operating system and/or upgrade some other software on my iMac.  

I have upgraded to Catalina. It solved my immediate problem but now I have another one which seems to me to be much worse. All my Microsoft applications now include the message: “Subscription Required to Edit and Save. Start your free one-month trial of Microsoft 365 or sign in to activate an existing subscription.”

I pressed the “activate” button after this message and seemed to be making some progress, but that turned out to be an illusion. I seem to be in a non-productive loop. The program asked me to download some files and I (perhaps mistakenly) did so, then gave up.

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What is going on here? Have I stumbled into a scam? In any case, how can I restore my previous Microsoft service?

Hugh Fowler

A: First, if you’re having trouble entering data on a website the culprit is rarely the operating system. It’s usually the web browser, so my first recommendation is always to just try a different browser. 

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It sounds like you did a “clean” installation of Catalina. The good thing about that is that you’ve gotten rid of all the clutter left behind from your previous computing. The bad thing about it is that your programs and data are also wiped out by a clean installation.

If you have a subscription to Microsoft 365 you can regain access to those applications by going to www.office.com and signing in. I’m afraid, though, that your data is gone. I hope you had it backed up.