Tech Support-call Cons

phonescam

by Fred Langa for Windows Secrets Newsletter

Tech Support-call Cons

“Hello. This is Microsoft Tech Support. Your PC has notified us that it has an infection.”

The call is a scam — an extremely prevalent one. Here’s how it works and what you need to know to stay out of the trap.

Scams come and go, but this particular one seems to have staying power — and it’s spreading quickly. It’s now so common, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center) issued a Jan. 7 special alert, “New twist to online tech supportscam.”

Windows Secrets reader Scott Brande was recently on the receiving end of a typical tech-support con. Recognizing it for what it was, he carefully documented the attempted snow job, then sent in his notes as a service to all Windows Secrets readers.

His narrative, plus the resources I’ll list at the end of this article, can help you — and the people you care about — avoid falling prey to this malicious tactic.

Scott’s description of how the scam played out:

“This morning I received a telephone call (the second such call in two weeks) about infected files on my computer; the caller then offered to fix the problem. Suspecting a scam, I decided to play along.

“I think it was the same caller both times. He had a strong accent, the kind I’m used to hearing on outsourced help lines. I asked the caller’s name both times; the first time he replied, ‘Mike Tyler,’ and the second time he was ‘Andrew.’ He began the call by saying that he’s with Microtek, an authorized supporter for Windows operating systems. (My spelling of the company’s name was a guess; the caller never spelled it out.)

“I asked immediately whether this was a sales call. Without directly answering my question, he launched into what sounded like a script. He stated: ‘Our servers have received information from your computer that indicates it is infected.’

“When I questioned him about his company, he told me I’d find ‘Microtek’ listed on [an online business directory] — as if a listing in the directory were proof his call was legitimate! When asked where the company was located, he replied, ‘Houston, Texas.’ I then asked for his employee ID; he gave me ‘MSCE079502.’

“(After the call, I ran an online search and came up with a Microtek in Houston; it’s a training facility for business computer users — not a technical-support center. I assume the caller just picked Microtek’s name off the Web. I don’t believe the real Microtek had anything to do with the bogus tech-support call.)

“Changing topics, I asked how he knew my computer was infected. He replied that his company is an authorized Microsoft Partner and, because I use Microsoft Windows, my computer sends notifications to Microtek servers.

“I then asked how he knew about my specific computer; he stated that his server gets updates from my PC. He then asked whether I ran Windows Update. When I said yes, he went on to say that Microtek servers got the information about infected files in my system via Windows Update.

“I countered, stating that Windows Update goes only to Microsoft servers — not Microtek servers. But he simply repeated that Microtek is an authorized Microsoft Partner.

“Next, I asked him which one of my computers was infected (I have several at home), to which he said something vague about a MAC address. When asked which MAC address he had for my machine, he would state only that, for ‘security reasons,’ he couldn’t tell me the MAC address (even though it was my own PC).

“At this point, I expressed my doubts about all this information. But he was quite persistent; he stated that ‘some of our clients in your area have been affected by the infected files on your machine.’ He then claimed I had upward of ’1,000 infected files.’ When asked who these local clients were, he said he couldn’t tell me that (of course).

“I asked how his clients’ machines could possibly be affected by my home computer. He didn’t answer this but went directly to the following: ‘OK, I’ll show you the infected files on your computer.’ He instructed me to enter .inf into the Start menu search box, then declared that all these files were ‘infected’ (that .inf stands for ‘infected’ or ‘infection’).

“At that point, I said I didn’t believe that was true; it was my understanding that .inf was a particular type of file that comes with software installed on my computer.

“At this point, he ended the call — probably because I knew that .inf didn’t refer to infected files. As it was, I’d had him on the line for a good 15 minutes.

“As I mentioned, this is the second such cold call I’ve received in about two weeks. The pitch given in the two calls was very consistent; I surmise there must be many others who have been presented with the same scam.”

Great job, Scott! Your suspicions are totally correct: This was just a scam. And yes, it’s extremely widespread.

Article continued here

This excerpt appears with permission from Windows Secrets Newsletter.

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10 thoughts on “Tech Support-call Cons

  1. One hour forty five minutes is my record for ‘holding’ a PC scammer – (I had three of them, one after the other, doing their best to sell me protection), at least it saved someone else from being scammed during that time. – and I was doing nothing else that morning!
    What finally ended it was the ‘senior tech walher’ telling me that my computer could send messages to them even when it was switched off and disconnected from the internet – I couldn’t help but laugh, and after a few really bad swear words, they hung up !!!
    A bit of fun when I have the time, which is not often.
    I write sci-fi books – and am just wondering if I could incorporate these scams into a story?
    Kind regards, David.

  2. I guess we have had upwards of 6 of these calls. It is pretty obvious from the outset that these are scam calls. The first one we received I wasn’t quite sure, I informed the caller that due to the present day scams out there I was a little paranoid and in fact had 4 different anti-virus programs installed and was sure nothing could get through. The following calls I just stated that I was in the middle of something so please give me a number where I can call you back real soon, Needles to say the caller hung up!!

  3. I simply tell them that if I have a problem with my computer I will call my tech and he has no business snooping in my computer. Then I hang up. Haven't been bothered for quite a while now. I do the same thing with calls about credit cards.

  4. I got partially taken when the scam was new. No harm was done but it taught me the lesson. Normally I just hang up on the dummies but took a different path the last time. When they called I kind of went along with them. He asked if I was on the computer and I said yes. He then explained and instructed me to enter .inf into the Start menu search box. I said ok and made out I had no idea what to do . He kept telling me he could see all the infections and he could help me get rid of them. Suffice to say I kept him on the line for about 45 mins until I got tired of the game.I then began to call him names and got ignorant with him. He didn’t seem to get the drift of what was happening to him. I explained I was in bed, pulling his chain. My computer was not even on. He replied that my computer can send info even if it is off.I told him my computer is turned off and disconnected from the internet when I am not in front of it and it wasn’t in my bedroom. He still did not understand why I was doing this.I then went on for about five mins calling him every bad expletive I could think of. At one point he told me I couldn’t talk to him that way. I told him that he was a stupid MoFo and a dirty Co Suker and I had just kept him from scamming someone else for the time I had him on the phone and given me a great start to my day.I then told him if they phoned again I would do the same and F U hung up. No more calls in about a year.

  5. These phishing scams are growing in all varieties. There is a FedEx one that claims to have your undeliverable package with a link requesting personal info. Verified with local FedEx store that it is a scam. Just check the senders address. Remember, email is not a secure message technology. Just don’t respond when slightest doubt.

  6. We get this silly calls all the time here in the UK, they are usually from India. In fact we had one just yesterday. He didn't stay on the line long once I made it clear what was what.

    • We get these calls here as well. They are very annoying! A good friend of mine who is also a computer technician took the call once – & backed them into a corner as well. But he did say that they were good, so unfortunately I'm sure that the vulnerable fall prey …

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