Beware Fake Tech Support Scammers
Have you received an unexpected phone call from a helpful customer service rep of Microsoft, or perhaps your ISP? I didn't think so. But many people have received calls from scammers posing as tech support reps, warning that their computers are infected with malware and offering help to fix the purported problem. Here's what you should do if they call you...
Fake Tech Support Scams
I've been hearing more and more cases of this tech support phone scam lately. The caller typically says he's calling on behalf of "Microsoft" and tells you that there's a serious problem with your computer. The supposed "fix" usually involves granting the caller remote access to your computer, or downloading a program that will fix the problem automatically.
Of course, what usually happens is that the scammer runs a fake scan which shows all sorts of problems, then scares the victim into paying for a solution or a subscription to worthless "security" software. In other cases, the scammer's goal is to steals the victim's financial data or install botnet software that enslaves the victim's computer.
This scam has been around since at least 2010, and even though the Federal Trade Commission has shut down some instances of it, there seems to be no end in sight. Apparently, that's because it continues to be both successful and lucrative. A Microsoft survey of 7,000 users found that 22 percent of those who received fake tech support calls followed the instructions they were given.
That survey was taken six years ago, and I don't see any evidence that the scam is going away, or that less people are falling for it. And it's not just senior citizens who are being victimized. My article Who Falls for Phone Scams? will tell you which demographic is most often taken in by phone scams, and other scams to be aware of.
Of those who fell for the scams, 79 percent reported some sort of financial loss; $875, on average. Seventeen percent had money taken from their accounts. Nineteen percent reported compromised passwords. Seventeen percent more were victims of identity theft. Fifty-three percent said they had "computer problems" following the fake tech support calls.
Why, you may ask, do scammers call potential victims instead of sending their pitches via email, which is a much cheaper and faster way to troll for victims? There are several reasons. Anti-phishing protections are everywhere these days, on email servers and users' desktops. The computing public is constantly warned about the dangers of phishing emails, but more rarely told that a phone call might be phony. The immediacy of a phone call leaves little time to think, "Wait, can this be real", especially when the caller is trained to press hard for immediate action.
I got one of these calls on my cell phone recently, from a person with a heavy Indian accent. When he told me that he was calling about problems detected on my computer, I knew right away what was happening. "You're a liar and a scammer," I told him, expecting him to hang up. "No, no," he replied, and aggressively tried to convince me otherwise, even though I threatened to report him to the authorities. After a few minutes this, I hung up on him.
A friend of mine got scammed by one of these callers. Even though they told him "we're from Microsoft," he allowed remote access to his Apple Mac computer, and signed up for a "protection service" that cost hundreds of dollars. When I told him he'd been had, he didn't believe me. I've heard from readers who got duped by tech support scammers, too. In variably, the problems they had been experiencing with their computers were worse, and there was a nasty mess to clean up. One person told me they called his elderly mother, and she doesn't even have a computer. They argued with her that she did!
If It Happens To You...
Treat any unsolicited phone call as a probable scam, even if it supposedly comes from a firm you trust. Microsoft does not call Windows users; it distributes security fixes only via Windows Update.
Never reveal sensitive information, such as a credit card number, to any unsolicited caller.
Do not follow any instructions at the insistence of any unsolicited caller. This may include visiting a website, installing software, re-configuring Windows, or viewing system error logs.
Write down the caller's name, company, and contact information. Ask for a phone number where you can call them back. It may very well be fake, but at least you'll have something to give to the police or other authorities.
Run System Restore to undo any recent changes. See my related article System Restore for Windows 7, and follow the instructions there. (The details are similar for Windows 8 and 10.)
Run a full anti-malware scan. Start with your anti-virus software, then do additional scans with MBAM and AdwCleaner. (See my article Free Antivirus Programs for links to these free tools.)
Treat the incident as a serious security breach. If you fall for a fake tech support scam and later realize your mistake, immediately change all of your passwords. Uninstall any software that you installed at the caller's behest. Disable remote access if you enabled it. Monitor your bank and credit card accounts closely and consider closing them if you detect any unauthorized transactions. (See the link in the sidebar above for Identity Theft Protection Tips.)
Have you or someone you know been victimized by fake tech support scammers? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 17 Feb 2017
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Beware Fake Tech Support Scammers (Posted: 17 Feb 2017)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved