Jan 142011

There are, of course, a lot of scams and attempted frauds connected with computers and the internet. Most of these involve something that originates on the computer itself, but one scam that’s been around for a couple of years seems to take people by surprise and make them wonder if it’s genuine.Microsoft scam - looking through magnifying glass

This involves an unexpected phone call from someone purporting to work for Microsoft who tells you there are problems with your computer. (S)he may suggest that they have been informed by your internet provider that your computer has been infected with viruses or malware, or a variation is that your “warrantee is about to expire so your computer needs checking” (!) They then get you to log onto a website. This website may or may not include logos suggesting that the website owner is a “certified partner” of Microsoft. The idea is that the website reassures you that they are genuine and provides the means for them to remotely access your computer (with your permission). It’s not then difficult for them to show you your Windows Event Viewer. This will have entries in it that are accompanied by warning triangles and the like. At this point they will say “there you are, told you so, your computer is in a mess. Pay me £90 (or £180) by credit/debit card now and I’ll clean it up for you”. As well as the financial fraud, they could also plant viruses or spyware at this time and/or steal data from your computer.

This is a scam. Entries in your Event Viewer do not, per se, mean there’s any problem (let alone a virus or malware infection). And think about it – when did you give Microsoft your phone number? Probably never. Where did they get your phone number from, then? It looks very likely from the evidence that people are gathering about this scam that they get your name and phone number from the phone book. As simple as that. When they call you they don’t even know that you’ve actually got a computer – but it’s a fair bet that you have, and it’s cost them very very little if you haven’t.

I’ve had three people contact me about this in the last six months. That’s not very many until you consider that I don’t know millions of people so this seems to me to be a significant proportion. I understand that this problem has been around for a couple of years, but it seems that it is becoming more common.

This scam is known to the UK authorities but there’s little they can do as the perpetrators are based abroad (India seems to be getting the blame). The originating phone call is routed via the internet so it can’t be traced.

Don’t bother asking them to prove their bona fides by speaking to a supervisor or asking for a number you can call back and don’t believe anything you see on any website they direct you to. Anyone can answer any phone call saying whatever they’ve prepared beforehand and anyone can create a website and put whatever they want onto it – genuine or otherwise. These phone calls are a scam. Do not be fooled or worried. Just hang up.

Microsoft is aware of this problem and they explicitly state that they wouldn’t phone you out of the blue like this – see http://www.microsoft.com/protect/fraud/phishing/msname.aspx

Oh, and if you have already fallen for this scam I suggest you cancel the credit/debit card you used.

© 2011-2017 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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