The Fake ISP Phone Call Scam: How It Works and What to Do About It
You’ve received a call claiming to be from your Internet Service Provider (ISP). The operator claims that your modem is about to expire or that someone has been using your internet connection.
They’re going to help you “fix” this, but at some point, they’re either going to ask for money, for remote access to your computer (to steal sensitive data), or access your online banking (to steal your money).
It’s a scam!
Here’s a breakdown of how this scam works, what you should do if someone calls you claiming to be from your ISP and brings up these “issues,” and how to keep yourself from becoming a victim.
Note: It doesn’t matter if these people are calling you from a dedicated call center or not. These callers, while they may sound as though they want to help, aren’t interested in you—they’re interested in the contents of your wallet.
The Phone Call From the ISP Scammer
Like all telephone scams, the criminals usual stick to a pattern of behavior and questions that they use to part you with your cash. This scam kicks off with a phone call to your landline.
Because this scam targets you based on which ISP you’re using, the call comes via landline rather than mobile. (This probably explains how the scammers get your number, which can be acquired by current or former ISP employees.) In addition, you might see the “Scam Likely” message on your smartphone , which would tip you off.
At first, an automated announcement greets you, explaining that there is a problem with your modem, or that someone has used your internet connection for “illegal activities.”
This seems to be a tactic to filter the targets. Those likely to hang up right away (or abuse the scammers) are not able to do so unless they hold the line. The intimation being, of course, that if you’re holding on to speak, you want to learn more about the alleged problem.
One or more operators follow, and perhaps a brief interim chat to give reassurance before you’re talked through “fixing” the issue by a senior scammer.
Presenting a Fix for a Non-Existent Problem
The “fix” is the scammer trying to find out as much as they can in order to profit from your moment of acceptance. As long as you—their victim—accept and believe that they will help fix the non-existent problem, you’re likely to grant them permission to do pretty much anything they want.
For example, if your scammer is running the “modem is about to expire” line, he or she will talk you through running some checks to “confirm” this diagnosis. Now in their power, you’ll feel that submitting control of your computer (or tablet, mobile, what have you) will save a lot of bother later on.
That, of course, is exactly what the scammer wants. This is when they strike.
If you’re being told your modem (or router) is set to expire, then you’ll probably be told that a fee needs to be paid, perhaps with the promise of a (non-existent) engineer to come and replace the device. Meanwhile, if you’ve been called concerning unauthorized access of your internet account, they might introduce a fee, but their primary aim is to establish remote access to your computer. Here, they’ll try to install Trojan software (perhaps keyloggers or ransomware ) or even boldly head for your online banking tab if it is open.
This is the point where you should be deeply suspicious. No one should be remotely accessing your PC unless you already have a support contract with them. You should not accept the remote connection, and you should refuse payment.
If you ever accidentally or unknowingly accept a remote connection, switch off your router and/or power down your device.
Why You Can Be Sure It’s a Scam
The veneer of reality, competence, and threat of “illegal activity” (or being denied access to the web) is all these scammers have in their arsenal.
But given some thought, it all falls apart pretty quickly:
- ISPs rarely call you. The onus is usually on you to call them.
- ISPs will have information about you to check your identity, whereas scam callers do not.
- Call center agents are trained to use the company name. Scammers don’t do this, instead using terms like “your Internet Service Provider” in place of the name. (When I experienced this attack, the scammers used “British Telecom”, the former name of the BT Group, albeit one that hasn’t been used since the 1990s.)
- Modems do not “expire”!
- People don’t use your internet account (as in, the account provided by your ISP) from another country. It just can’t be done.
We’ve seen some comments that suggest that if the call center operative has a strong Indian accent, that it is probably a scam. This is terrible advice. All kinds of legitimate companies outsource call center operations to India. Plus, many telephone scams originate from within the US.
Our advice? Listen to the words, not the accent. As ever with scams: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
What to Do About It? Just Hang Up
So, how do you handle a call like this?
It’s important not to be pressured into making a decision. Make the time to research the problem online, looking for the correct solution. This may mean requesting the scammer call back later, or you take details and call them. In most cases, they will refuse.
Check with your ISP. Use the contact number from your internet bill or your ISP’s website to call your ISP and confirm if the call is genuine.
In the future, when you receive calls like this, simply hang up. (Look for these telltale signs to confirm that you’re dealing with a scammer .) These people are criminals. They have a track record of abusive, threatening behavior. Getting involved is a waste of your time .
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that as long as you keep them on the phone, you’re saving someone else from being conned. Their enterprise is so successful that you’ll barely be making a dent.
Instead, contact your ISP or your communications ministry and complain with full details of the call. Keep a note of the number that was used to call you if you have caller display. Give the authorities all the information they need to close these call centers down.
We’ve previously looked at the similar Windows tech support scam and what to do if you’ve been caught out by it. We’ve even looked at whether you should record and share your encounters with scammers.
Another common scam you should watch out for is “ghost broker” extortion, which cons you into buying fraudulent insurance with far-reaching consequences. Learn more about ghost broking to protect yourself from this scam.
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