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Avoid getting scammed by "Cortana - It seems your PC is locked out" sites

Also Known As: Cortana - It seems your PC is locked out tech support scam
Damage level: Medium

What is "Cortana - It seems your PC is locked out"?

"Cortana - It seems your PC is locked out" is a technical support scam, which our researchers found while inspecting sites that use rogue advertising networks. Scams of this type aim to trick users into calling fake helplines to resolve computer-related issues. Once on the line, victims are lured into allowing remote access to the scammers, who abuse this trust to cause various problems.

Cortana - It seems your PC is locked out scam

"Cortana - It seems your PC is locked out" scam overview

When we accessed a webpage promoting this scam, we were presented with multiple pop-up windows. The pop-ups included a fake system scan, threat alerts, and a chat window. The primary claim of this scam is that the visitor's computer has been blocked due to a detected malware infection.

The chat is stated to be AI-based - however, users supposedly cannot use it due to a critical failure. Instead, the scam urges calling provided the provided number.

It has to be stressed that all these claims are false, and by dialing the number - users will not contact Windows/Microsoft engineers, technicians, or other specialists. While this scam masquerades as a warning issued by Windows, it must be emphasized that it is in no way associated with the Microsoft Corporation.

Tech support scams can operate variously; the key aims include tricking victims into calling the listed numbers and being granted remote access to their devices. However, once the entry is gained - the scam model can vary. While these cyber criminals primarily profit by making victims pay (exorbitant sums) for their "services", they can cause a wide variety of damage in addition.

Scammers may uninstall genuine security tools, install (purchase-only) fake anti-viruses, extract sensitive data, or infect the computer with malware (e.g., trojans, ransomware, cryptominers, etc.).

To elaborate, victims can be deceived into disclosing information (e.g., personally identifiable details, usernames/passwords, banking account credentials, credit card numbers, etc.) by being told that the "technician" cannot see it or by typing it into a phishing website or file. Alternatively, the data can be exfiltrated through the use of malware.

Victims typically have to pay using difficult/impossible to trace methods. For example, with digital currencies (e.g., cryptocurrencies, gift cards, pre-paid vouchers, etc.), the transactions of which usually cannot be reversed.

In some instances, victims are asked to hide cash in packages and ship it to the criminals. The latter is particularly common with refund scams, where victims are informed that they have been refunded too much and must return the excess. Furthermore, successfully scammed users are often targeted repeatedly.

To summarize, by trusting the "Cortana - It seems your PC is locked out" scam, users can experience system infections, severe privacy issues, significant financial losses, and even identity theft.

Should it be impossible to close a scam webpage, you have to end the browser's process using Windows Task Manager. Additionally, when opening the browser - do not restore the previous browsing session, as that will reopen the deceptive site, and the problem will reoccur.

If you have already allowed the scammers to access your device, we advise immediately disconnecting it from the Internet. Afterwards, remove the remote access software the cyber criminals had used (e.g., AnyDesk, TeamViewed, etc.) to ensure that they could not enter it again - since they may be able to without your knowledge. Lastly, scan your device with an anti-virus and remove all detected threats.

Threat Summary:
Name Cortana - It seems your PC is locked out tech support scam
Threat Type Phishing, Scam, Social Engineering, Fraud
Fake Claim Computer was blocked due to detected threats.
Disguise Threat alerts from Windows/Microsoft.
Cyber Criminals' Phone Numbers +1-888-240-9737, +1-833-856-0204, +1-888-894-0166, +1-888-526-2520
Symptoms Fake error messages, fake system warnings, pop-up errors, hoax computer scan.
Distribution methods Compromised websites, rogue online pop-up ads, potentially unwanted applications.
Damage Loss of sensitive private information, monetary loss, identity theft, possible malware infections.
Malware Removal (Windows)

To eliminate possible malware infections, scan your computer with legitimate antivirus software. Our security researchers recommend using Combo Cleaner.
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Technical support scam examples

We have analyzed countless tech support scams; "Access to this PC has been blocked for due to illegal activities", "Pornography Warning Error", "Firewall Error: #ST43400X", and "Your computer is disabled. Please call Microsoft." are just a couple of examples.

Regardless of what this deceptive content claims, it must be emphasized that no website can scan systems or detect threats/issues. Therefore, any page making such claims - is a scam.

How did I open a scam website?

Deceptive websites are typically accessed unintentionally. We discovered a webpage promoting the "Cortana - It seems your PC is locked out" scam through a redirect caused by a site using rogue advertising networks. Scam-promoting pages can also be entered through mistyped URLs or redirects generated by spam browser notifications, intrusive ads, or installed adware.

How to avoid visiting scam websites?

To avoid visiting deceptive pages, we strongly advise against using websites that offer illegal or questionable services (e.g., Torrenting, pirated content streaming, etc.), since they usually employ rogue advertising networks.

Online scams are also pushed through browser notification spam. Therefore, do not allow dubious sites to deliver browser notifications - in other words, do not click "Allow", "Allow Notifications", or similar options. Instead, we encourage ignoring or denying notification requests (i.e., pressing "Block", "Block Notifications", etc.).

Furthermore, adware can display advertisements promoting scams or cause redirects to such websites. To prevent advertising-supported software from infiltrating your system, always research products and use official/verified download sources. When installing, we highly recommend reading terms, studying possible options, using the "Custom/Advanced" settings, and opting-out of all supplements - to avoid inadvertently allowing adware into the system.

We must emphasize the importance of having a reputable anti-virus installed and updated. Security programs must be used to run regular system scans and to remove detected threats and issues. If your computer is already infected, we recommend running a scan with Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows to automatically eliminate all threats.

Text presented in "Cortana - It seems your PC is locked out" scam pop-up:

Hello!


How is your day going?


Hi! I'm Cortana, a new AI chatbot by Microsoft. It seems your PC is locked out due to security reasons.


Click on one of these options to continue troubleshooting.


Self Diagnostic Tool
Run Complete Scan


Unfortunately, chat support is not available for this critical failure. Please contact Support

The appearance of "Cortana - It seems your PC is locked out" pop-up scam (GIF):

Appearance of Cortana - It seems your PC is locked out scam (GIF)

Instant automatic malware removal: Manual threat removal might be a lengthy and complicated process that requires advanced computer skills. Combo Cleaner is a professional automatic malware removal tool that is recommended to get rid of malware. Download it by clicking the button below:
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Quick menu:

How to identify a pop-up scam?

Pop-up windows with various fake messages are a common type of lures cybercriminals use. They collect sensitive personal data, trick Internet users into calling fake tech support numbers, subscribe to useless online services, invest in shady cryptocurrency schemes, etc.

While in the majority of cases these pop-ups don't infect users' devices with malware, they can cause direct monetary loss or could result in identity theft.

Cybercriminals strive to create their rogue pop-up windows to look trustworthy, however, scams typically have the following characteristics:

  • Spelling mistakes and non-professional images - Closely inspect the information displayed in a pop-up. Spelling mistakes and unprofessional images could be a sign of a scam.
  • Sense of urgency - Countdown timer with a couple of minutes on it, asking you to enter your personal information or subscribe to some online service.
  • Statements that you won something - If you haven't participated in a lottery, online competition, etc., and you see a pop-up window stating that you won.
  • Computer or mobile device scan - A pop-up window that scans your device and informs of detected issues - is undoubtedly a scam; webpages cannot perform such actions.
  • Exclusivity - Pop-up windows stating that only you are given secret access to a financial scheme that can quickly make you rich.

Example of a pop-up scam:

Example of a pop-up scam

How do pop-up scams work?

Cybercriminals and deceptive marketers usually use various advertising networks, search engine poisoning techniques, and shady websites to generate traffic to their pop-ups. Users land on their online lures after clicking on fake download buttons, using a torrent website, or simply clicking on an Internet search engine result.

Based on users' location and device information, they are presented with a scam pop-up. Lures presented in such pop-ups range from get-rich-quick schemes to fake virus scans.

How to remove fake pop-ups?

In most cases, pop-up scams do not infect users' devices with malware. If you encountered a scam pop-up, simply closing it should be enough. In some cases scam, pop-ups may be hard to close; in such cases - close your Internet browser and restart it.

In extremely rare cases, you might need to reset your Internet browser. For this, use our instructions explaining how to reset Internet browser settings.

How to prevent fake pop-ups?

To prevent seeing pop-up scams, you should visit only reputable websites. Torrent, Crack, free online movie streaming, YouTube video download, and other websites of similar reputation commonly redirect Internet users to pop-up scams.

To minimize the risk of encountering pop-up scams, you should keep your Internet browsers up-to-date and use reputable anti-malware application. For this purpose, we recommend Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows.

What to do if you fell for a pop-up scam?

This depends on the type of scam that you fell for. Most commonly, pop-up scams try to trick users into sending money, giving away personal information, or giving access to one's device.

  • If you sent money to scammers: You should contact your financial institution and explain that you were scammed. If informed promptly, there's a chance to get your money back.
  • If you gave away your personal information: You should change your passwords and enable two-factor authentication in all online services that you use. Visit Federal Trade Commission to report identity theft and get personalized recovery steps.
  • If you let scammers connect to your device: You should scan your computer with reputable anti-malware (we recommend Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows) - cyber criminals could have planted trojans, keyloggers, and other malware, don't use your computer until removing possible threats.
  • Help other Internet users: report Internet scams to Federal Trade Commission.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is a pop-up scam?

Pop-up scams refer to online content designed to trick users into performing certain actions, e.g., calling fake support lines, allowing cyber criminals remote access to their devices, making monetary transactions, providing private information, installing (likely untrustworthy or malicious) software, and so on.

What is the purpose of a pop-up scam?

The primary goal of pop-up scams is to generate revenue for their designers. Cyber criminals can profit through funds obtained by deception, abuse or sale of vulnerable information, software promotion, malware proliferation, and so forth.

Why do I encounter fake pop-ups?

Pop-up scams are run on various deceptive websites. These pages are typically accessed via others that use rogue advertising networks, intrusive advertisements, or spam browser notifications. Scam sites may also be entered via misspelled URLs (website addresses). Additionally, adware installed onto the browser/system may force-open such webpages.

I cannot exit a scam page, how do I close it?

To close a scam webpage, you must end the browser's process using Windows Task Manager. Do not restore the previous browsing session when reopening the browser - since that would re-access the deceptive website.

I have allowed cyber criminals to remotely access my computer, what should I do?

First, you must disconnect the device from the Internet. Secondly, eliminate the remote access program you've been accessed to install (e.g., TeamViewer, AnyDesk, etc.), as the scammers may not need your consent to re-access the device. Lastly, scan the system and remove all detected threats and issues.

I have provided my personal information when tricked by a pop-up scam, what should I do?

If you have provided account credentials - immediately change the passwords of all possibly exposed accounts and inform their official support. And if you have disclosed other personal data (e.g., ID card details, credit card numbers, etc.) - contact corresponding authorities without delay.

Will Combo Cleaner protect me from pop-up scams and the malware they proliferate?

Combo Cleaner is designed to scan visited websites. It can detect rogue, deceptive and malicious sites - and restrict further access to them. Combo Cleaner can also scan systems and eliminate practically all known malware infections. However, running a complete system scan is vital - since sophisticated malicious programs usually hide deep within systems.

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About the author:

Tomas Meskauskas

Tomas Meskauskas - expert security researcher, professional malware analyst.

I am passionate about computer security and technology. I have an experience of over 10 years working in various companies related to computer technical issue solving and Internet security. I have been working as an author and editor for pcrisk.com since 2010. Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn to stay informed about the latest online security threats. Contact Tomas Meskauskas.

PCrisk security portal is brought by a company RCS LT. Joined forces of security researchers help educate computer users about the latest online security threats. More information about the company RCS LT.

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Malware activity

Global malware activity level today:

Medium threat activity

Increased attack rate of infections detected within the last 24 hours.

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