Don’t be fooled by the “problem on your PC” scam

Don’t be fooled if you receive a phone call from someone warning of a problem on your PC.

We’re called every two or three weeks by a caller claiming to be from “windows support”, “the internet provider” or some another organisation with a convincing name. They start by saying something like: “we’ve noticed you have a very serious problem on your computer which needs sorting out straight away”. You can understand why some people are taken in, when the caller appears to be so helpful and insistent. But they are confidence tricksters … the calls are part of a scam!

In 2011 Microsoft released the results of a survey of 7,000 computer users which revealed 16 per cent had received such calls from scammers. Over a fifth of those called were tricked into following the scammers’ instructions, which ranged from allowing remote access of their machines, downloading dodgy software or revealing credit card information.

I’m wary because I know what their game is, but when I’ve tried to stall them, such as by asking how they can know we have a problem, or which one of the PCs in our home has the problem, the callers can be very persistent. On one occasion, after putting the phone down, there was another call within seconds from “the supervisor” who said his colleague was very concerned that I hadn’t taken the call seriously and that it was necessary we solve the problem NOW!

On some occasions, my wife, Sue, or I have played along with the scammer. I was asked me to look in the Windows “Event Viewer”. This presents a log of various events to enable expert users to troubleshoot problems. Some entries are labelled as warnings or errors, which appear frightening to the uninitiated, but are benign and can be ignored. However, the scammers claim they are evidence of computer corruption or malware activity which must be “fixed immediately”.

Microsoft’s survey reveals 22 per cent of those who received a call were tricked into following scammers’ instructions; 79 per cent of the victims surveyed said they suffered financial loss, while over half suffered subsequent computer problems.

The callers may appear trustworthy because they appear to be doing you a favour, but don’t be fooled! The fact that this scam is so widespread proves it is very lucrative for the criminal gangs running it.

Royer Slater
17 June 2011

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