You’re at your computer, and you receive a phone call from a gentleman with a polite foreign accent. He knows your name, and he tells you that’s he’s from Microsoft Technical Support, and he has information that your computer is infected with a virus, and he’s calling to help.
Being slightly uncomfortable with computers to begin with, you have no reason to believe that he’s not telling the truth, and you let him walk you through steps that seem to verify that he knows what he’s talking about. Suddenly you’re handing over your credit card number and allowing him remote access to your computer in an attempt to fix the problem.
Of course, it’s a scam, and if you do anything besides hang up on the caller, you’re likely to get yourself in trouble, either in terms of the security of your computer, or financially.
And you wouldn’t be alone: This scam has caught thousands of English-speaking customers off guard, and costs the average consumer $875. The scam always plays out the same way: You get a call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft Support (or Client Services, or some other department), the caller knows your name, and the caller suggests that your computer is broken in ways that he can fix. In 2011, Microsoft surveyed 7,000 computers users in the U.S., UK, Ireland, and Canada, and found that 15 percent of people had received calls from these scammers. Of those who received the call, 22 percent were deceived into following the scammers instructions, and most who did suffered financial loss, password security issues, and/or computer problems.
The answer is simple: Don’t talk with these people on the phone. If someone calls you offering computer support or tells you that your computer is infected with a virus, they’re lying. No legitimate computer company will call you with specific details about your computer. (The only exception might be a company that calls you because you have registered a product, and the company has subsequently found a problem with the product, like a recall. But that’s a different issue.)
Here are Microsoft’s suggestions for dealing with these scammers:
• Be suspicious of unsolicited calls related to a security problem, even if they claim to represent a respected company.
• Never provide personal information, such as credit card or bank details, to an unsolicited caller.
• Do not go to a website, type anything into a computer, install software or follow any other instruction from someone who calls out of the blue.
• Take the caller’s information down and pass it to the authorities.
• Use up-to-date versions of Windows and application software.
• Make sure security updates are installed regularly.
• Use a strong password and change it regularly.
• Make sure the firewall is turned on and that antivirus software is installed and up to date.
• Microsoft Security Essentials is a free antivirus product and is available at http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/security_essentials/default.aspx.
Once you give money to these scammers, it’s very difficult to recover any of the money. Microsoft suggests these steps if you have already been a victim:
• Change your computer’s password (http://www.microsoft.com/security/online-privacy/passwords-create.aspx), change the password on your main email account and change the password for any financial accounts, especially bank and credit cards.
• Scan your computer with the Microsoft Safety Scanner (http://www.microsoft.com/security/scanner/en-us/default.aspx) to find out if you have malware installed on their computer.
• Contact your bank and credit card companies.
Clearly, a lot of people fall for this scam, or they wouldn’t continue perpetrating it. Don’t be a victim: Simply hang up on anyone who calls you claiming to offer tech support over the phone.
Doug Behl and Ken Getz spent years answering technical questions in private, and are minimizing the questions by pre-emptively publishing the answers. Hear Doug and Ken’s tech tips on KNCO radio weekdays at around 8:21a.m. and 5:38 p.m.; find full write-ups including links to the products they mention at http://blog.techtipguys.com. Submit your own technical questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.