Beware tech support fraud.

A client of mine–an elderly retired accountant in her 70′s–was scammed out of $280, yesterday.  Not through an online scam or a social phishing expedition which mines unsuspecting, trusting individuals for user names and passwords.  No, this was an old-school, retro type of scam… via telephone.  It did involve a computer, however.   Read more after the jump…

My client received a phone call from a Indian-accented person claiming to be working for Microsoft.  He told her that her computer was full of “critical errors and infections” which needed fixing immediately because her Windows system was at serious risk.   And of course, he would be happy and able to help her fix these errors.  My client declined his help, hung up and tried to contact me for advice.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t available right away, so when she received her second call from “Microsoft”, this time from a woman, she was again warned of these critical errors and advised that she needed to take action as soon as possible in order to avoid a complete nuclear computer meltdown.

Long story short, after multiple conversations with four different callers, one being a “supervisor”, my client was finally convinced of their veracity after being shown the actual “errors” in her Windows Event Viewer.

Now, for those who might not know, the Windows Event Viewer is essentially a log where Microsoft Windows operating systems report various types of system events including informational messages, audits, warnings and errors.  Each logged event has an icon associated with it:  warnings have a yellow triangle with an exclamation point; errors have a red circle, also with an exclamation point.   The thing is, every Windows system on the planet will have warnings and errors listed in its event viewer.  Every single one of them, for every single version of Windows.  Of course, the average non-IT person wouldn’t know that.  Back to my client…

After seeing these multiple red and yellow frightening exclamation points prominently displayed in her event viewer, my client allowed these bogus callers to remotely login to her computer for the dubious service of “fixing” them–for $280.  Of course none of them needed fixing.
When we were finally able to connect with each other, I had to give her the bad news and advised her to contact her credit card company immediately to report the fraud.   The good news is that it doesn’t appear as if they left any lingering malware or damage behind.  She was lucky.  Some are not.

So for lessons learned, here are a few guidelines that may be helpful to follow if you ever receive one of these calls:

1.  No one will  ever pro-actively call you about infections or errors on your computer–especially employees of Dell, Microsoft, HP, Apple, etc.  Unless they are an IT person you’ve hired to actively monitor your computer, there’s no way to know if your computer has errors or infections–unless they put the infections there, of course.

2.  If you receive one of these phone calls, hang-up.  Or if you’re tech-savvy, have some fun and lead them down a big-barrel of wasted time by letting them help you find the Windows Event Viewer on your Macintosh.

3.  If you do fall prey to one of these scams, make sure that either your or your IT person inspects your computer, immediately.  Make sure you have an up-to-date antivirus/security program installed and working, and check for malware with a trustworthy malware scanner.  Also look for any recently installed applications.

If you think this post can help others avoid being scammed, please share.

And finally, here’s a 2012 article from ars technica on how widespread this has become.   And do read some of the comments.  They are hysterical.

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One Comment on "Beware tech support fraud."

  1. cornelia
    27/07/2013 at 6:55 am Permalink

    It’s the same information posted at http://www.callercenter.com/blg/articles/tips-on-how-to-avoid-becoming-victim-of-a-scam/ and I think it’s helpful that we can find articles like that online so we are aware of the scam and are able to avoid becoming a victim to it.

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