Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
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 your well-being, and for your computer’s health. You see, his company’s servers have detected your computer has fallen prey to a dangerous virus that’s been making the rounds. Untreated, this virus will steal all of your personal data, credit cart numbers and all, and will then proceed to spread to your loved ones and other contacts, wreaking havoc on their lives.
Oh, and it will also ruin your computer. If you’re reluctant to believe, the technician can easily prove it. He shows you how to open your Windows Event Viewer. Those errors you see there? That’s the virus right there; conclusive evidence. Fortunately, the technician is here to help. If you could just let him assume remote control over your computer for a few minutes, they would make all of this go away….for a modest fee, of course.
If this were to happen to you, you’d probably laugh and hang up, realizing you’re being conned. In fact, this is exactly what happened to our own Tim, who related his experience in detail. That was in September of last year — so, more than a year ago. But according to recent news, these scammers are still very much active.
This Post Isn’t For You
It’s for them – your friends, your parents, your other family members who might fall for something like this, because these “technicians” can be very convincing, and because there are always some errors in the Window Event Viewer. The rest of the story goes like this – the “technician” does assume remote control over your computer, and doesn’t really do anything major (if you’re lucky). He just moves the mouse around, opening and closing windows, typing important-looking (yet meaningless) commands into console windows. Because, of course, your computer isn’t infected with anything at all, and he’s not even from Microsoft, Norton, or Symantec. He then charges you anywhere from $49 to $450 for his “services”, and moves on to the next sucker.
The FTC recently cracked down on tech support scams just like this. They got a court order against six scams, but that doesn’t mean they were just six of them in existence. It is well worth knowing about these, and letting your friends and family know as well, before they get a concerned call.
The take-home message: Microsoft, Symantec, or any other company will never proactively call you about anything remotely like this, much less ask to take control over your computer. Don’t fall for it.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only way such “fake support” scams find victims – there’s one more way you should know about.
The Google Way
When you think about it, from a scammer’s point of view, cold-calling people like this can be pretty time-consuming. What if they have a Mac, or if they only have a tablet? What if they’re not home? Fortunately (for the scammers, that is), there’s a much more efficient way to siphon your money away and focus on lucrative clients – they already think they have a virus, making them ideal candidates for your “services”. And not only that, but you can use the most powerful ad system on earth to track them down – Google Adwords is at your service.
This version of the fake tech support scam works like this – the hapless users search for something like “Sophos Tech Support” and get prominent links leading to official-looking support pages. The links may be ads (as the FTC says), or they may just be the result of gaming Google to obtain higher search rankings, which is possible for short periods of time (and focused terms like this). The support page directs users to call a number for help. Now the scammer just has to sit by the phone, waiting for the calls to come in. When you call asking for help, they will gladly “help” you, for $300 or so. This is brilliant for the scammers, because people tend to trust Google search results, and because it saves a lot of cold-calling.
The take-home message: If you see an “official” link for a support center that isn’t actually on the exact website for the company you need (i.e, “norton.com”, not “nor-ton.com”), don’t call any number on that page, and don’t follow instructions, either. Keep searching for more reliable advice online, or go directly to your antivirus vendor’s site and search there.
Share This Message
I don’t usually sign off with a request to share the post, but this one time I think it could save some heartache (and money). If you’ve got family or friends you think should know about this, just show them the post, or take a few moment to talk to them and explain the concept. Good luck, and stay safe online!