Beware Cyber Scammers Posing as Tech Support

PHOTO: Military spouses, uprooted every two to three years by PCS moves, struggle to find work.Getty Images
Military spouses, uprooted every two to three years by permanent-change-of-station moves, struggle to find work.

Dear ABC News Fixer: I think you should let your viewers know about an ongoing scam, in which someone calls and claims to be with Windows or Microsoft, telling you they have detected a virus or a malfunction in your computer. They ask you to log into a website and then they plant a real virus or malware in your computer and hold you hostage for absurd fees to remove it.

I own a company that does computer repair and systems support, and we’ve had customers fall victim to this scam. Please tell your viewers that the real Microsoft would never call you like this.

Alas, many customers are embarrassed to admit what happened, so they pay!

- Michael Bayan, New York, N.Y.

Dear Michael: Your letter came just in the nick of time because this scam seems to have heated up again. You told us this week you had yet another customer with an infected computer from this scam. We talked to her – she’s an adjunct professor at a prestigious business school in New York and no dummy – and here’s how she described the very convincing con:

First, she got a phone call at her office number from someone who said he’s with Microsoft tech support, which had detected some viruses on her computer. She was suspicious, so she asked where he was based. He cleverly said Washington State – where the real Microsoft is headquartered -- and gave her a call-back number. She rang him back and he directed her to a website that looked surprisingly real.

Once she clicked on that, her “tech helper” remotely logged into her computer while she stayed on the phone with him. Some windows opened on her screen with “error” messages, supposedly showing all the ways that her computer was infected. He said that her PC’s “insurance” had lapsed, but he could reinstate it as a lifetime policy for just $275 and clean up her computer if she’d just provide her credit card.

That’s when the professor got suspicious. “It sounded like he had a scam script,” she told the ABC News Fixer.”When I realized that I let this guy into my computer … I hung up and called Michael hysterically.”

You told us you were able to clean up the good professor’s computer, which had been infected by malware from the website. Good thing. We’ve read numerous stories online about the same scam, and about consumers who’ve unwittingly let the malware turn their PCs into “zombie computers” that can be controlled off-site by the scammers.

Microsoft has tried to alert users about these scams, which can take the form of a supposed tech support agent or a person selling supposed software. Once inside your computer, these criminals can capture your passwords and user names and potentially access your banking and credit card info.

The scammers find people’s names and phone numbers through public sources and then they guess what system they’re using. With so many people using PCs, they have a good chance of getting it right. They can “spoof” their own number on caller ID so it looks like it’s from another area code.

They say they’re from someplace with “Microsoft” or “Windows” in the name, such as the “Windows Helpdesk.”

But Microsoft says it and its partners do not make unsolicited cold calls to consumers to charge them for computer security or software fixes.

- The ABC News Fixer

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