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Silent phone calls are a pain; those call centers offering riches from your bank following a change in legislation, or a new government initiative that you can take advantage of, are irritating. But worst of all is the Windows Tech Support scam, indiscriminately targeting people all across North America, the EU, and Australia.

Our Previous Article on Windows Tech Support Scams

Back in January 2015, I received a call from someone claiming to be from “Windows Tech Support” Anatomy of a Scam: The "Windows Tech Support" Con Examined Anatomy of a Scam: The "Windows Tech Support" Con Examined They're constantly on the prowl: cold calling scammers claiming to be from "Windows Tech Support". We were targeted by one of these con artists and here's what happened. Read More . These cold calling scammers Cold Calling Computer Technicians: Don't Fall for a Scam Like This [Scam Alert!] Cold Calling Computer Technicians: Don't Fall for a Scam Like This [Scam Alert!] You've probably heard the term "don't scam a scammer" but I've always been fond of "don't scam a tech writer" myself. I'm not saying we're infallible, but if your scam involves the Internet, a Windows... Read More  had “detected” that my PC was “infected” with a virus, and wanted to use remote desktop software to connect to my PC 4 Remote Desktop Apps To Fetch Files In Windows & Beyond 4 Remote Desktop Apps To Fetch Files In Windows & Beyond Microsoft recently removed SkyDrive's "Fetch" feature. Here we show you how you can access files remotely on and from various device, including Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android. Read More to “clean” the supposed threat.

Fortunately, I was wise to this. Calls like this are a regular occurrence in the UK; indeed, I can recall receiving several when I worked in the IT department (of all places!) of a local healthcare organization (which proves that these people take a scattergun approach to their scam).

On the phone for around 15 minutes, the latter portion of the conversation went like this:

Now, I was lucky enough to realize instantly what was going on. While I kept the caller talking, I got my wife to hold the landline while I quickly recorded the call with my smartphone. But not everyone gets the chance to react in the way that they should.

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The Danger of Scammers

Whichever way you look at it, these people are dangerous. Either they want to siphon off a chunk of cash in order to fix a problem on your PC that doesn’t exist (or if it does, their call is coincidental, and they don’t have the required knowhow to resolve it), or when you call them out, they swear and curse, use threatening language, and perhaps even offer to kill you – depending on how long you wasted their time.

Put simply, hanging up is safer. While stringing the scammer along may stop them conning someone less aware of the con, or how their computer works, it also puts you at greater risk.

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Following my previous article on this scam, we received a deluge of responses, some offering their own methods for wasting the scammer’s time, others recalling how they were affected by the calls. Here’s what Mary Kay Higgins told us:

“I started to get harassing cell phone calls the day after the scam. They were probably really annoyed to lose the $175.00. He said “Hello, is this Miss Mary … ” in an Indian accent and started saying something about what happened yesterday. I told him that I looked things up and know they are a bunch of frauds and that I never wanted them to call me again. As I was hanging up I could hear him yelling.”

That’s why you need to hang up.

Windows Tech Support Scam Scare Stories

While reading Mary Kay’s comment, I discovered that so many great stories have been shared. I urge you to head over to that article (via the link above) to check them out, but if you don’t have time, I’ve picked some of those that gave me pause for thought.

One such story is Debbie’s. She’s a home worker who was receiving calls as she fed her baby.

“[The scammer] told me it would cost me £99.99 to cover my computer for 2 yrs and I told him how on earth can I afford that with a young baby?! He said my computer will crash in 24hrs due to 6 or 7 known hackers trying to get into my computer. I asked him for a number to call him on as I told him he was holding me ransom.”

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Forbes Smith has another worrying story.

“Jonathan (the Indian) did a good job of convincing me that they were legit and that it was my operating system that had alerted them to my PC having a ‘problem’. Unfortunately I allowed them remote access, and it was only when they told me that I needed to pay £99 for them to ‘fix’ the error that I smelled a rat. While we were arguing over the fact that I didn’t call them for support I wasn’t actually watching what was happening on the screen. I noticed a window open and it looked like a password was being set but before I could do or say anything they had ‘shut down’ my PC and disconnected the phone call.”

This last element is something new, which I hadn’t encountered before: scammers creating accounts to block (or baffle users used to a straightforward sign-on when they boot) access to Windows. The aim here would clearly be to prompt the victim to call them back for help, which they will then charge for.

Despicable.

It’s worth remembering, too, that the scammers don’t necessarily call you first What's Fake Tech Support & Why You Shouldn't Trust Everything You See on Google What's Fake Tech Support & Why You Shouldn't Trust Everything You See on Google You’re sitting at home, minding your own business. Suddenly, the phone rings. You pick up, and it’s Microsoft (or Norton, or Dell, or …). Specifically, it’s a support engineer, and he’s concerned – concerned for... Read More . Michelle Line recalls her friend who clicked a link on Facebook, only for a window to pop up “notifying the user that ‘a virus was detected on your computer’ or something similar. And to call 888-751-5163, which she did.” The Russian “tech support” scammer then attempted to gain entry to the laptop.

Meanwhile, Galen also made a search for a phone number, only to find that the result for “McAfee Tech Support” on Google was a scam. On this occasion, however, it was the level of help offered by the scammer that raised suspicions.

“‘Edward’ told me I actually had purchased the wrong McAfee product and he said he would be happy to download the correct antivirus software onto all three of my laptops. I did think that was odd, as McAfee tech support had never been that helpful in the past…”

Now, if you’re thinking the people I’ve mentioned so far are a clue short of a detective story, think again. For instance, Galen (above) was grieving for her husband. Elsewhere, Rob Jenkins kindly shared the story of his father, who has fallen for the scam twice. “He is highly intelligent, has a PhD and ran a large organization for many years. Others shouldn’t feel too embarrassed or falling for this. It doesn’t make you an idiot, perhaps just too trusting of strangers.”

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Rob then goes on to outline what is perhaps the best way of dealing with the scammers.

“When I get these calls, I try to play to their conscience. I ask how they can sleep at night knowing they are stealing from people and warn them about the damage they are doing to their own soul. Most remain quiet. One told me it doesn’t bother him at all. I hope I am getting to them and they may seek an honest living. I understand that people living in abject poverty can rationalize their actions, especially since they are calling people in wealthy countries, but in truth they are harming themselves.”

Tamsyn Ooi’s story is quite concerning. Not only are the scammers after your cash, it seems some of them are also sleazebags.

“I had a… call concerning a PC from a Pakistani sounding man and since it was so early in the morning, I pretended whoever it was for wasn’t in, and the man began to CHAT WITH ME (I pretended to be 16yrs old, I’m way older really). He was such a creep, asking what I do, where I work, how my voice was sexy. I told him I wanted to put the call down and he went ‘Why? Why do you want to put the phone down?’ I just replied that I wanted to and promptly did so. Creep.”

In what sense could that sort of behavior be considered acceptable?

Are Retailers or Manufacturers Involved?

I think we’ll finish with Nikki’s story. This is a particularly concerning tale, as the victim had just bought a new PC, and used a particular set of credentials. Says Nikki:

“I do not get scammed easily. This person knew my legal name – which of course I use when making purchases – and she also knew that I had just recently purchased a computer with Windows 7. My legal name is not listed anywhere – even our local phone directory only uses the first initial of my nickname. I feel as if the scammers somehow got my information from the company where I recently purchased the computer.”

muo-security-phonescams-shoppers

A similar story comes from LAC:

“It took me a while to figure out it was a scam because I had recently asked for some tech support. At first the call seemed legit because the “Windows technician” seemed to know some personal information about me and my laptop.”

Which begs the question: are retail store staff – or even employees of computer manufactures – in bed with the scammers?

Why Action Is Needed on the Windows Tech Support Scam

Microsoft has hit these types of scam with lawsuits in the past, and the FTC has also had success in shutting some down – at least, where they’re based in the USA.

But as long as these scams make money for criminal businesses – which at the very least have links to organized crime, and which may also have connections to extremists – they pose a risk. Is it unreasonable to demand that the telephony surveillance powers of the NSA and GCHQ should be used to trace and block such calls?

How would you like to see the authorities deal with this scam? Been hit by it yourself recently (if so, follow these steps to shore up your security What Should You Do After Falling For A Fake IT Support Scam? What Should You Do After Falling For A Fake IT Support Scam? Search for "fake tech support scam" and you will understand how common it is across the world. Some simple precautions after the event could help you feel less of a victim. Read More )? Share your story in the comments. And huge thanks to all of those who got in touch with us last time around.

Image credits: Cyber criminal by Dejan Dundjerski via Shutterstock, Sam72 via Shutterstock.com, Brian A Jackson via Shutterstock.com, SpeedKingz via Shutterstock.com, dotshock via Shutterstock.com

  1. Amir
    October 27, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    Will creating an ISO on external drive using DDKI delete the data on the external drive?
    Is it safe from that perspective?

    Thank you.

  2. Josia
    January 7, 2016 at 7:27 pm

    Has anyone done this using TAILS (tor-enabled OS) in windows 8 disguise mode? I'd be interested to see what they do.

  3. Daniel Escasa
    December 27, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    Would you recommend setting up a honeypot?

    • Christian Cawley
      December 27, 2015 at 3:19 pm

      I'm not sure what it would achieve. With so many different "organizations" plying their trade in this way, it would be a waste of time to, well, waste their time, IMO.

  4. Robert
    December 1, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    I had someone call my parents home while I was there. I told him where to stick it. I also called him a liar, a thief and a criminal. He was screaming obscenities as I hung up the phone. Awesome. Hand another guy call me to inform me that I had won a governmental lottery because O paid my taxes and had no criminal record. After asking for my band account or credit card, I told him I wanted it in cash. He said he couldn't send cash via the mail. I told him I wanted him to get on a plane or boat from Pakistan or where ever the hell he was from and deliver it by hand. He started screaming obscenities at he and hung up.

  5. Christian Cawley
    December 1, 2015 at 8:08 am

    That is scary. What happened? Did it make the newspapers? Is he okay?

  6. Sophia
    December 1, 2015 at 7:44 am

    I had 2 run in with them the first time I a bit smart about it bu the 2nd time I wasn't quite smart.

    First run-in, they called and asked that a PC has a virus. Keep inmind family had about 5 computers in the household so I kept asking them "Which computer?" and to which they replied, "doesn't matter!"this went on for awhile and he sounded manacing by the 2nd. I got annoyed becausee he is getting mad at me for no reason, so I yelled back saying, "I'll just f***ing live with the so-called PC virus then deal with you people!" and slam the phone.

    2nd run-in, they somehow knew my IP number which got me lured. I got to the part where they "cleaned" my computer. then they demaned $200+ money which I told them to send me an invoice. The invoice was electronic but word document file, cheaply-made with no address. I demanded an address and they refused to give it to me. It got fishy that I told them, "No address, no money." hung up, and just factory reseted my laptop. I reported the phone number to the cops. but not sure if that did anything,

  7. Shannon
    November 30, 2015 at 11:12 pm

    I got a call like these a couple of months ago on my cell phone, of all places. Mr. Indian on the other side said he was calling from Microsoft, and he was currently detecting unusual activity coming from my PC that suggested a problem. I told him he was full of it because the computer was sitting next to me, turned off, and I was on a major highway driving!!! I told him since I know he was full of s**t, he could just hang up. He did!

  8. Pugwash
    November 30, 2015 at 9:58 pm

    I pay my phone line provider to block incoming calls that lack caller-id. I only answer calls that have an entry in my handset's address book of people I want to talk to. It's pretty effective!

    • Christian Cawley
      December 1, 2015 at 8:09 am

      Do you pay for this service?

      • Kelsey Tidwell
        December 1, 2015 at 5:33 pm

        I use the free call block plan.

        1) I look at my phone when it rings.

        2) If there is no number listed, I don't answer it.

        3) In my call log, I reject that caller so that it never rings again.

        I've actually had calls show up identified as, "Solicitor". I always wonder if that caller ever gets a response. :)

  9. Tom
    November 30, 2015 at 8:13 pm

    My coworker told me a story before Thanksgiving break about how her father got one of these calls and after he told them where they can stick it... the scammer actually swatted her father's house. A full swat team showed up thinking he had killed his wife and kids, who were already out of the country for the holidays.

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