Even savvy PC users can get fooled into thinking a reputable support person from your software or hardware providers needs to gain access to your computer.
Cybercriminals may call you on the telephone and claim to be from Microsoft and offer to help you solve your computer problems or sell you a software license. This is an ongoing and well known scam, but worth repeating for the New Year.
- Cyber scams have become increasingly sophisticated. No individual, professional or business user is safe—even IT professionals can be targeted.
- Never give control of your computer to a third party unless you can confirm with 100-percent certainty that they are a legitimate representative of a computer support team with whom you are already a customer.
- Anyone with a Windows PC is going to have errors in your error log. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a serious issue that needs immediate antivirus software installed to correct.
- If you suspect you’ve been targeted by a cyber-scammer, take the caller’s information down and immediately report it to your IT department. If you don’t have an IT department, then contact your trusted IT provider and the local authorities.
I received one of these calls a while back from a person who identified himself as “Sean” from Tech24 Windows support, a Microsoft company based in California. He claimed that my PC had been identified by Microsoft as being infected with a virus and he was calling to help me clean it up. “Sean” had a thick Indian accent.
I pretended to go along with “Sean” to see how the scam works. First Sean told me that the “gateway server” in my area had been infected and passed it on to my PC. Next he had me open several of the administrative Windows logs and count the number of errors I found. Now, anyone with a Windows PC is going to have errors in the error log. The error log messages can detail issues such as a power failure that caused an improper Windows shut down, or an update that failed to install for some reason, or and other informational, but not serious messages. So he tried to involve me by counting and recognizing errors.
Next he said he could fix the virus infection if he could gain remote access to the PC. He directed me to a site to download software that would allow him to control my PC and “fix” my problem. At this point I ended the call, but got his phone number in case I wanted to call back.
What happens next in the scam is that they take access to your PC and can install software to capture user names, passwords and banking information. At this point they will usually ask for your credit card information to bill you for fake antivirus software they will install as well as steal your credit card information. In some cases they may lock you out of your own PC and demand a ransom payment to allow access back in.
If someone claiming to be from Microsoft tech support calls you:
- Do not purchase any software or services.
- Ask if there is a fee or subscription associated with the “service.” If there is, hang up.
- Never give control of your computer to a third party unless you can confirm that it is a legitimate representative of a computer support team with whom you are already a customer.
- Take the caller’s information down and immediately report it to your local authorities.
- Never provide your credit card or financial information to someone claiming to be from Microsoft tech support.
Other scams involving the Microsoft name
Variations on the above scam include winning the Microsoft Lottery, calls to validate your copies of Windows and unsolicited email messages with attached security updates. View a comprehensive list of known Microsoft scams here.
Live Video of a typical scam
Here’s a video where the scammers called a senior security researcher from an antivirus company and he played along and video recorded the whole episode. The video runs about 26 minutes, but it’s very instructive. Skip through and view the highlights.
Martin Roth is a principal, of Norwalk, Connecticut-based INCON Research, Inc., which provides on-site computer and network support for small businesses, individuals and not-for-profit organizations in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Previously he held a variety of executive positions in consumer marketing research and has contributed to trade publications such as Marketing News (American Marketing Association), CASRO Journal (Council of American Research Organizations) and CASRO News.
A former US Army Artillery Officer, Roth holds a BA in Psychology and an MBA in Marketing from Adelphi University.