Sep 052014
 

So, one day you’re really busy. You get an unsolicited call from someone claiming they’re “Microsoft Support” or a company associated with Microsoft or your PC manufacturer (like Dell or HP). They claim that there’s a problem with your PC: “Your PC is infected!” They use technical terms. They’ll help. They ask you to use the mouse or keyboard to do some things on your PC. You’re asked to give them a special ID and /or number code. They’ll then show you the problems. Your PC screen starts changing. You start feeling anxious, even scared. Something’s not right, but … When asked, you give them your credit card number.

Later, you find several hundred dollars were billed to your credit card. You suspect a scam.

Yes, as pointed out in the latest VIPRE Security News (Issue 7, September 2014), such phony computer support calls remain a common scam. Especially among seniors, as I’ve witnessed first hand. As pointed out in their “Don’t Trust Unsolicited Calls From ‘Computer Support Technicians’” article:

Typically, scammers say they’ve detected viruses or other malware on your computer to trick you into giving them remote access or paying for software you don’t need, … The latest version of the scam begins with a phone call. …

Once they have you on the phone, they often try to gain your trust by pretending to be associated with well-known companies or confusing you with a barrage of technical terms. They may ask you to go to your computer and perform a series of complex tasks. Sometimes, they target legitimate computer files and claim that they are viruses. Their tactics are designed to scare you into believing they can help fix your “problem.”

Lessons:

1. Be aware that these scams are common. Whether via an email message or a phone call, anyone can contact you and claim to be anyone, even providing fake credentials and phone numbers. (And, by the way, Caller IDs can be spoofed as well — you may even get a call from yourself — the Caller ID shows your name and phone number!)

2. If you’re scared (or were already really stressed, distracted, or super busy), defer any action by hanging up or declining any offer. Or, just shutdown the computer. Sadly, rational action’s unlikely if you already panicked.

3. Never let anyone remotely control your computer unless you’ve had independent, multiple verification — or at least called a number on a valid service support contract that came with your computer. If that person was at your front door, would you let them in just on the basis of their self-declarations?

4. The same cautions apply to signing up for a computer support or maintenance contract. In a few minutes some of these scams start spending money using your credit card information.

5. The emotional toll can be severe.

  5 Responses to “Phony Computer Support Calls — A Common Scam”

  1. On October 24, 2014, PC World posted an article “Court shuts down alleged PC tech support scam” which summarized government action against a phony computer support company which “targeted seniors and other vulnerable populations.”

    “A court has shut down a New York tech support vendor after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission accused the company of scamming computer users into paying hundreds of dollars for services they did not need. … The FTC’s complaint against Pairsys, based in Albany, New York … Pairsys charged computer owners US$149 to $249 to fix nonexistent problems on their PCs, the FTC alleged.”

    http://www.pcworld.com/article/2838892/court-shuts-down-alleged-pc-tech-support-scam.html

  2. Microsoft has their own “Avoid tech support phone scams” webpage (http://www.microsoft.com/security/online-privacy/avoid-phone-scams.aspx), with this summary:

    Cybercriminals don’t just send fraudulent email messages and set up fake websites. They might also call you on the telephone and claim to be from Microsoft. They might offer to help solve your computer problems or sell you a software license. Once they have access to your computer, they can do the following:

    1. Trick you into installing malicious software that could capture sensitive data, such as online banking user names and passwords. They might also then charge you to remove this software.

    2. Convince you to visit legitimate websites (like http://www.ammyy.com) to download software that will allow them to take control of your computer remotely and adjust settings to leave your computer vulnerable.

    3. Request credit card information so they can bill you for phony services.

    4. Direct you to fraudulent websites and ask you to enter credit card and other personal or financial information there.

    Neither Microsoft nor our partners make unsolicited phone calls (also known as cold calls) to charge you for computer security or software fixes.

    Other topics discussed are:

    Telephone tech support scams: What you need to know

    How to protect yourself from telephone tech support scams

    What to do if you already gave information to a tech support person

    Will Microsoft ever call me?

  3. On November 20, 2014, PC World posted an article “How to protect yourself from PC tech support scams” which summarized “The U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s game of whack-a-mole with Windows tech support scammers.”

    Previous scams involved cold-calling customers over the phone and then convincing them their computers were riddled with malware. This time around, however, the scammers had to wait for a user to download a bogus desktop program.

    Usually people are enticed to download these phony apps with promises of improved security or performance for their PC. Then after they download a trial version, the app runs a scan and discovers non-existent errors on the PC.

    http://www.pcworld.com/article/2850043/how-to-protect-yourself-from-pc-tech-support-scams.html

  4. On December 19, 2014, PC World posted an article “Microsoft drags alleged tech support scammers into court” which summarized how “Microsoft sued several U.S. companies it said are involved in fake tech support scams.”

    In an attempt to stop the scammers, Microsoft filed a civil lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against a California company trading as Omnitech Support, and related companies, for unfair and deceptive business practices and trademark infringement, Microsoft said Thursday.

    Microsoft conducted test sessions on fixnow.us, one of the sites operated by Omnitech Support, a name used by Customer Focus Services (CFS).

    Read more at: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2861595/microsoft-files-suit-against-alleged-tech-support-scammers.html

  5. Malwarebytes.org’s security blog has a good article “Tech Support Scams – Help & Resource Page” on this topic, covering these items:

    How it all begins
    Remote access
    Tricks of the trade
    Getting help (damage control)
    Fighting back
    Tech Support Blacklist
    URL blacklist
    Related articles

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