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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 PC and a cold calling technician, it won’t take long for the penny to drop.
I’m basing this article on my experience with a would-be scammer who called my parents house last week. This isn’t the first time Mr Windows Repair Guy has so helpfully graced us with his detailed instructions, and this time I was determined to find out exactly what the deal was.
Tell your friends, tell your relatives – Microsoft does not call to fix your PC.
When the phone rang, the guy on the other end claimed to be from “Windows Technical Support”. Many people would probably notice that something is awry at this point, as Microsoft isn’t known for cold calling to tell you there’s a problem with your computer. Straight away I knew it was the good old “you’ve got viruses, and we can fix ’em” scam, so instead of the “where’s the Start button on my Linux desktop?” routine I had fun with last time, I thought I’d play along.
I was informed that Microsoft had detected that I had viruses on my computer, and that if I didn’t follow his advice to remove them, my computer could “crash unexpectedly at any time” (tell me something I don’t know).
So I sat down at my parents’ new Windows 7 machine and asked him what sort of viruses I had. He told me to click on Start, right-click on Computer and choose Manage. Then I was told to click Event Viewer, Custom Views then Administrative Events.
This is where the scam gets somewhat believable. This screen displays a log of messages from various services and programs running on your PC. At first glance, there are a lot of red crosses and warning triangles, which could probably look quite serious to an average user.
Apparently, these were my viruses!
I was then asked if I could delete any of these new-found viruses with a simple right-click and Delete. As we all know by now – these aren’t viruses. Additionally, you can’t remove the log with the right-click context menu, so I guess they’re just here to stay?
Of course the fix was only round the corner. Once I’d informed my new best friend that I couldn’t remove them, he told me to open Internet Explorer (!) and assured me there was software available to help victims like me.
The website I was told to visit was AMMYY.com (which we are not linking to), but the software didn’t seem to match up. This website claims to provide a remote desktop solution, not the malware dressed up as security software I was expecting.
At this point I had been on the phone for a good 15 minutes, with much of the conversation lost in translation as I struggled to understand the heavy Indian accent. I had words, informed him that I knew exactly what was going on and would be reporting the incident to BT (the telephone provider) as well as shaming him in any way possible and bid him adieu.
Didn’t stop him calling back immediately though did it?
There are a plethora of reasons you shouldn’t trust a cold caller, but even more so when it comes to your PC, your personal information and suspicious software. The costs associated with someone gaining remote access to your computer could be devastating. Sensitive information relating to bank accounts, passwords for paid services and documents that could be used to forge an identity could be stolen.
Goods could be ordered via services that save your billing information and any sites that remember logins will be easily accessible. In addition to theft, safeguards like anti-virus programs might be disabled and further malicious software like keyloggers and trojans could be installed.
There is unfortunately very little that can be done to combat these scams. I phoned BT and was told that the numbers from this type of call are virtually untraceable, but calls came from “somewhere in Asia” and were a persistent problem. If the perpetrators are using VoIP services like Skype, the calls are not easy to trace, and it’s not impossible to use a ringback service to decipher the number.
Hopefully this article has provided some brief insight into this kind of computer support scam, which is prevalent all over the world. Unless you fancy becoming part of the big bad botnet, you’d better never trust a caller like this. Variations are common – sometimes it’s bogus anti-virus software that requires payment, or similar – so remain vigilant.
I’m not sure whether AMMYY.com are a legitimate company or not, but Panda’s Firefox plugin doesn’t rate the website and nor does a quick Google search which brings up all sorts of “scam” notices. I’m going to recommend that nobody uses an AMMYY.com product, purely on the basis that there are lots of quality proven alternatives that aren’t linked to dishonest individuals who want your money, data and bandwidth.
Have you had any phone calls like this? Do you know anyone who has? Consider sharing this article, and spreading the word. Comments and discussion are welcome below this article.