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Scam calls on the rise; no one is calling you from your technical department

By Leigh D. Stark | 8:42 am 05/06/2012

A growing number of Australians are picking up their phones to hear so-called technical experts tell them their computer needs fixing. Sadly, some people believe the lies these so-called experts spout.

“Hello, we’re from the technical department calling about your Windows PC,” the voice says from the other end of the phone, unbeknownst to her that she’s actually talking to the technical department of the company.

“There is a problem with your Windows PC,” she starts to say, pausing as the digital line crackles around her.

You can hear it immediately: the girl on the other end is reading from a script, in a room where more people just like her are reading from a script, calling people just like us every second of every day.

But it’s all a lie. There is no problem with your Windows PC, if you even had a Windows PC.

These are modern day tech scammers, companies set up in call centres around the world that call up regular people and try to convince them that their computers have been hacked or are broken, and a quick fix by these apparent Microsoft support people will fix everything.

“Scammers are using several well-known brands, such as Microsoft, to convince Australian consumers to give them money or personal information under the ruse that there is something wrong with their personal computer,” said Microsoft Australia’s Chief Security Advisor, James Kavanagh.

Anyone can get these calls. We’ve had four this week, and GadgetGuy uses Macs.

The calls are mostly random, and the people on the other end of the phone have no real clue what operating system you’re using. Instead, the callers are relying on the knowledge that not only are there more Windows users around the world, but that most of them won’t have any paid form of internet security, thus making the chances more likely for the scam to work.

Once the call is picked up, the script begins, and you’re eventually convinced to head to a website that may look innocuous, but can allow someone else to remotely gain access to your computer.

Problems will be mentioned, demonstrated, and now that your computer has some severe problems, you will be asked to pay to fix them.

“Microsoft does not make unsolicited phone calls or send unsolicited email messages to request personal or financial information or fix your computer,” says Kavanagh. “We strongly advise Australians to simply hang up if they receive a call of this nature and not to respond to any communications from these scammers, no matter how professional or genuine they sound.”

From the few we’ve had this week, none sounded at all professional. In fact, the moment you ask questions, they will more than likely hang up. Perhaps we just don’t sound like we can be easily fooled, or perhaps the scripts have no room for error and need a conversation to go by the book.

So how do you stop yourself from being caught out by these scam artists? Kaspersky Lab’s Sam Bryce-Johnson told us that customers should “always be diligent, and not take everything on face value.”

“Social engineering scams don’t even have to be telephone related,” Bryce-Johnson told us, ” [and] if I sent a USB drive in the post many people would simply plug it into their computer without knowing what malware might run as soon as it’s plugged in.

“There are many variations of social engineering scams, and the victims are often intelligent people who made the mistake of misplaced trust.”

If someone does call up claiming to be from Microsoft – or any other company – question them. Severely. And make sure that you have some form of internet security installed on your computer to stop any attempts of this nature dead in its tracks.

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