It starts in one of two ways – most of the time, the phone rings and it’s someone claiming they are from Microsoft and have noticed that your PC has multiple infections, or is indicating there are errors that are somehow alerting the caller of their existence. Sometimes, it’s a pop-up alert on your computer screen notifying you of “problems” with your PC and providing a phone number to call.
Either way, you’ve just been hit by a scam. How you respond to it may make the difference between you spending hours undoing the damage to your credit and changing all of your passwords, or you enjoying a nice latte, smug in the knowledge that the bad guys didn’t win today.
Microsoft will NEVER contact you personally to notify you of something wrong with your computer.
First, let me say Microsoft will NEVER contact you personally to notify you of something wrong with your computer. They are way too busy working on programs for the latest, greatest gadgets and software that will do things you don’t even know you need yet. And, if there is a problem with one of their programs, most likely there is a “fix” that will be coming through on the next Windows Update.*
So, now knowing that, the best response to these scammers is to simply hang up. And don’t worry about being rude by ending the call quickly…they’re already dialing the next number to see if they can find someone else.
However, if you – or one of your family members – does engage in a conversation with a phone scammer, do not give them any personal information or download any programs they may be sending you. The moment you turn over control of your PC, these scammers start downloading programs that actually harm or lock up your files, and also have complete access to your personal information. While you’re looking at your screen, which by now will be showing warnings and alerts that they’ve created to make it seem as though your machine is infected, they will be telling you how they can get rid of the viruses for just a few hundred dollars. And, for a few hundred dollars more, they try to sell you a “protection plan” against future malware attacks.
The telephone scammers can be quite persuasive. Numerous reports have come in from PC users being verbally abused by the scammers pressuring them into purchasing something they don’t need.
The thing to remember is that these scammers are playing on your fears. If you had not noticed anything out of the ordinary on your PC prior to their phone call, more than likely your computer was operating normally. If it already seemed sluggish, or you had annoying little issues taking place, whatever the phone scammers can offer won’t help. Either way, their program will make things worse than before.
This malicious game of downloading “scareware” onto the computers of the unsuspecting has been going on since 2008, with former members of the Microsoft Partner Network – chiefly from India – preying on unwary customers in the U.S., Great Britain, and Australia. According to The Guardian newspaper of London, the fraudulent activities started “from call centres based in Kolkata, by teams believed to have access to sales databases from computer and software companies.”
According to recent statistics cited by David Finn, Founder and Executive Director of the Digital Crimes Unit and Microsoft Cybercrime Center, there are nearly 400 million victims of cybercrime each year, costing consumers roughly $113 billion per year.
Disproportionately, those targeted by the scammers are aging baby boomers. While Microsoft is aware of the problem, and with the help of local, federal and international law enforcement agencies, has prosecuted those perpetrating the crime, “It’s better to avoid being conned rather than try to repair the damage afterwards.” (https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/safety/online-privacy/msname.aspx)
The good news is that, should you find yourself at the mercy of one of a telephone solicitor claiming to be a technician from Microsoft, or Google, Apple, or Samsung, more than likely your files can be retrieved by a qualified local technician and your computer restored to a time prior to the malware download.
For more information, contact the technical experts at PSeeSolutions at (614) 454-3890 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visiting www.pseesolutions.com.
* Stay tuned for an upcoming post on why you should or should not allow Windows Updates to run automatically.
Kriss Galloway is a computer technician at PSeeSolutions, located at 138 E. Main St., New Albany, OH 43054. Talk to any one of the technical experts at PSeeSolutions by calling 1-614-454-3890, or visiting www.pseesolutions.com.