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“I am calling you from Windows…”
We’ve all had the calls, but what can we really do about the Windows Tech Support and Windows refund scams? Should you hang up, or lead the callers on? Is there anyone you can report them to, and if so, should you even bother? Let’s find out.
The Windows Tech Support Scam Nightmare
Fake tech support scams are on the rise and almost everyone is at risk. Scams are difficult to spot. Even seasoned IT professionals have been caught out by Windows scam calls. It’s not hard to see why.
Anyone claiming to be “from Windows” could be expected to know if there was a virus on your PC, right? And when they guide you into checking the Windows Event Viewer they usually manage to snare you into their swindle.
While errors are genuinely logged here, reading out a string of numbers for harmless issues engages victims with “the problem.”
After all, you don’t want to lose your hard work, or be without your computer due a virus, right?
Similarly, the Windows refund scam attempts to con you into thinking that Microsoft owes you money. This is often linked to free Windows 10 upgrades, with scammers attempting to gain access remotely to “process” the payment.
Application of logic will, of course, make a mockery of these claims. Microsoft doesn’t have your phone number (unless you’re an employee) and payments aren’t processed on your PC.
What Do the Windows Scammers Want?
The aim of the scammers is to con you into installing their remote-control software on your computer. Once done, this will:
- Allow them to steal data
- Introduce a Trojan horse “backdoor” to your system
- Install ransomware
Your scammer will no doubt also perform some “tech support theater” to look as though they know what they’re doing.
Once the “virus” is discovered, of course, the scammers will demand money for their services of “removing” it. If you refuse, there is the possibility that the scammers have remotely changed your password or encrypted your files. The Windows tech support call just transformed into a ransomware scam.
Perhaps you’ve just received one of these calls, or you know someone who has. What should you do next time?
Handling a Windows Scam Call
So, how should you deal with a scam call?
Well, the answer is simple: hang up when a scammer calls.
Many people—mostly those wise to the scam–think it is helpful to keep the Windows support scammers talking.
(When I did this in the video above, it was to record and demonstrate the scam in action.)
Diverting the caller, perhaps pretending you’re looking for the “error code” or installing their remote software, wastes their time. The thinking is that you’re stopping them (for a short time at least) from finding a less savvy victim.
A common method (one used in the video) is to omit to mention that you’re using Linux or macOS. These are rarely targeted by scammers and between them account for just 11% of the computers currently online.
While this approach makes sense, it isn’t without its dangers. Scammers are often aggressive, pushy, and even sleazy. Throw in some threats and reports of violence and doxxing (unsubstantiated) against victims who called them out, it becomes clear.
It really isn’t worth stringing the scammers along.
Should you find yourself still talking, avoid sharing any personal information. And don’t go to the webpage that the scammer directs you to; certainly, don’t install any software.
Hanging up, then, is the best option. Ending the call as soon as scammers claim to be from Microsoft might just force the criminals out of business.
Finally, make sure you tell people—anyone and everyone. The more people who know about the scam, the greater the chance of it being abandoned by its perpetrators.
What If a Scammer Accessed Your Computer?
Something that concerns a lot of people is the condition of their PC after the scam. Many find themselves partially taken in before installing the software, or worse, after installing it. Perhaps you saw the mouse pointer moving around and felt something was wrong. Perhaps you ended the call and switched off your PC.
Perhaps… perhaps you gave access to the scammer, believed their lie, and paid up.
If any of these scenarios sound familiar, what should you do?
Did You Give the Scammer Remote Access?
If so, you’re probably safe, but make sure you run a scan with your anti-virus software and Malwarebytes’s Antimalware tool. You should also restart your PC to force-end the remote session; if for some reason this isn’t possible (due to remote access) hold the power button on your computer down until it shuts down.
Did the Scammer Install Any Software?
In this case, there is a strong chance that they copied (or attempted to) data from you. If this data features personally identifiable information, this could be used to determine one or more passwords. If you use Facebook, for instance, and your password can be guessed, then a whole load of information can be harvested about you. This is how identity thieves get their claws in.
Have You Paid a Windows Tech Support Scammer?
Call your credit card company right away, tell them you have been scammed, and they should cancel the transaction. You should also change the password for your credit card account—and every other password you use, too.
By giving your credit card details to the scammers to pay for their “service”, you’re also likely to give them the information they need to use your card. By sharing the 16-digit number, the valid until date and the three-digit number on the reverse, you’ve essentially given them everything they need to steal from you.
Remember, they called you: this is not a safe way to conduct business! Our dedicated guide looking at the aftermath of a tech support scam call explains further.
Report Windows Technical Support Department Scams
Whether you can report the scammers for their criminal behavior depends on where in the world you live. As a rule, the police can’t do anything about this, unless provided with location-based information. They will, however, act if given enough information by an industry regulator or government department.
So, who can you get in touch with?
In the USA, the target of your complaints should be the Federal Trade Commission. Calls to the FTC are treated seriously, but you should have made a note of the caller’s name and number. You should be able to get the number from your handset, or by dialing your regional “last incoming call” number.
If you’re in the UK, contact Action Fraud and log a report.
Avoid Windows Technical Support Scammers
Scammers preying on unsuspecting computer users cannot be allowed to win this battle. We suggest that in addition to hanging up and reporting callers that you also consider abandoning your landline, if practical.
Should mobile numbers then be targeted, whitelisting and blacklisting call management apps can be used to block them.
Windows telephone scams are not the only one doing the rounds these days. Watch out for the ghost broking car insurance scam, which can have disastrous consequences if you’re caught out.