As an IT geek and (semi) professional it both amuses and annoys me when I get the inevitable cold caller on the phone.
“Hello Mr Bloggs, I’m calling from Microsoft about your PC”
Invariably there’s a foreign accent on the other end of the line, often Indian but sometimes American or even the occasional European accent. In every case they receive the same response from myself.
“No you’re not” *click*
There are variations on this theme. I’ve had callers claim to be from Microsoft, from my ISP, even once from an anti-virus company. It happens once every 6 to 12 months and to date they still haven’t got the message that I know as soon as they start speaking that it’s a scam. What is worrying is that they have your phone number and your name. It doesn’t matter how they got it, they have it and the fact they ask for you by name lends the scam an air of legitimacy. How do they have your name and number? How many times have you entered an online competition? “Win an iPad!” it says, just enter your contact details and if we draw your name out the hat you’re a winner. And people do win, they have to. But in the small print there’s that little bit that says they can then recover the costs of the competition by selling your data. And mostly it will be fairly harmless, enter a competition on a whiskey site and expect junk mail and emails about Jack Daniel’s whiskey. I have a rather nice 2013 calendar from Jack Daniel’s marketing company right here. But the data is still for sale and eventually someone you don’t want knowing your contact details buys your data and you receive the call from “Microsoft”. Either way think about every competition you enter and every marketing survey you’ve ever filled out over the phone. If you’re not certain how that data will be used, don’t give it to them.
So why am I so sure it’s not Microsoft on the phone? Or my ISP or even an anti-virus company? Simple, they will NEVER contact you direct at home. If you are signed up to any support package they will always email you. And never with a link asking for you to “click here and login”. Any phone call that states “there is a problem with your PC” should raise alarm bells. How do they know it’s my PC? Have they traced the IP address back? Well you just have to ask the MPAA or BPI how hard that is to do. The only way any 3rd party can link you to your IP address is by first obtaining a court order and then presenting that to your ISP. As it’s not actually illegal to have a computer full of viruses that will never happen (unless you happen to be the one writing the viruses).
So how are they trying to scam you? Quite simply the whole point of the scam is to persuade you to go to a website where the scammers can take control of your PC. In order to fix your PC they will have to download a file that apparently removes all the nasty software that’s been ringing alarm bells back at Microsoft/your ISP/the anti-virus company. And there is software that can do this, google malwarebytes and ad-aware, downloadable from download.com (it’ll redirect to cnet). AVG even do a rather nice free version of their software, just be prepared for the annual “are you sure you don’t want to upgrade to the pro version?” The software that the scammer has downloaded however will not do this. Once downloaded instead the scammers will make their sting. A large sum of money for “fixing” your PC. If you don’t pay up, say goodbye to all the data on your hard drive. If you do pay up expect your bank account to be empty tomorrow and your PC to suddenly slow down as the scammer’s keyloggers start recording all your logins and passwords that you use.
So remember, if anyone claims to be from any IT company and you’re not expecting a call from them, put the phone down. Your ISP, Microsoft, even your anti-virus software provider simply do not care what is on your PC enough to call you at home. No one is that special that they can expect a phone call every time you click on that link that says “click here for cute kittens”. Except maybe Bill Gates, and I seriously doubt he spends his free time googling kitten photos.