Its seems that the tech support scams are rife again and are out in force catching unsuspecting people unaware. Over the past few weeks I have been receiving a larger than usual number of calls from current customers telling they have received calls claiming to be from places such as Microsoft tech support, their ISP or other reputable companies. These callers have claimed there are errors been reported to them and they need remote access to the PC.
Telephone is not the only way these people will try and scam you out of 100s of pounds. You may see a pop up on you screen telling you your computer is locked and you need to ring a particular number or possibly when you boot the computer you have a screen claiming to be police that has locked your computer and you need to pay to unlock it. Again these are all scams designed to steal your money.
These people are con artists and under no circumstances should you give anyone access to your computer without knowing exactly who they are. In this article we will look at a few of the more common scams and how they trick you into parting with your money, what to do if you are targeted and some advice on what to do if you are the victim of a computer scam.
The telephone tech support scams.
The tech support scams over the phone seems to still be the most common type of scam. They convince you they are from some reputable company like Microsoft and that your computer has been reporting a number of errors to them. They then request access to your computer so that they can show you the errors that they are seeing. They will connect to your computer and proceed to show you a list of 100s of errors in the error log file while you watch your screen. The trick here is they are using the error log of your computer and genuine errors to convince you that you have huge problems. They will show you a screen similar to the one below:
Now these are legitimate errors but the problem here is the message “error” or “warning” is a little deceiving. ALL computers with have some warnings or errors. This screenshot is taken from my own computer and some of the the errors I know relate to an older version of software I am using, others relate to a game crashing or a program been unable to access its updates as my internet was down. These are all errors but not errors to worry about. The scammers play on the fear of seeing all these red errors and the fact that the errors are not overly descriptive. They also hope they will drop lucky and catch someone on an off day who is also having problems such as slow internet connection or their computer is running slow. They can use these errors to backup their claim that you have problems with you computer. Windows logs pretty much everything that happens on your computer from a program starting to a USB stick been removed incorrectly, its normal to have occasional errors.
After showing you this screen and essentially building the fear that something could be seriously be wrong with your computer (including claiming that your bank accounts etc may be at risks if it is not repaired urgently) they tend to take one of two avenues depending on your responses. The first is to become the hero and tell you not to worry as they can sort it out for you and get it cleaned up (at a large cost). If this does not work and you seem reluctant they can become aggressive and try and scare you into paying.
The clean up comes at a hefty price with most tech support scams quoting around the £180 mark but some considerably more. If you are reluctant they will offer to reduce the price as a favor to say £120. Still reluctant? £99.99 and they will get it all cleaned up for you so it is no longer reporting these errors. (Sometimes they will use a third party program while they have remote access to show you either false data reporting multiple viruses or inaccurate data to further enforce their point)
Once they have convinced you to pay the reduced fee of £99.99 they proceed to clean up your computer. Now in my experience they do very little, they will run a program or 2 come out with technical terms and then simply clear the error logs and show you your computer that is now reporting zero errors (this can be done by just removing the logs). In some case the nastier scammers will install malware on your computer which can put you and your personal information at further risk.
The call is then ended you are £99.99 you computer is more or less in the same condition as before and you could potentially have unwanted software on your computer.
The second way these people try to con you is by hoping they drop lucky and you are a customer of the company they claim to be from. For example I recently had a gentleman who paid one of these firms over £200 after they claimed to be from talk talk support. There was a well known problem with a version of their router and the scammers used this to mass call people and hope that they were a customer of talk talk (or maybe they had a list of talk talk customers, I dont know). When they found a customer that was with talk talk they could direct you to talk talks own pages and news article to enforce the line that they were from the company and needed to access your computer to fix the error and from here they would proceed as above.
Now talk talk is not the only company they will use, they will use anyone that will get them access to your computer so they can get to phase 2 of their scam.
Ok. So what should I do if I receive a call from one of these people?
The scammers tend to use the names of well known companies to get a level of trust from the people they call so could claim to be from anyone. I personally just put the phone down but better advice for those unsure would be to say to the caller that you will call them back direct on their customer support number. If they are scammers the odds are you may get an angry or even aggressive response to this and that should set alarms bells ringing for anyone and should result in you hanging up the phone! Put the phone down and ring the company they are claiming to be from directly. DO NOT ring any number they give you as they could just be directing you back to the same scam line or to a premium rate phone number. Use a search engine or an old bill to find the customer service number of the company they claim to be from and call the legitimate company on their number and explain the phone call you received. If the original call was legitimate you can proceed knowing you are dealing with the real company.
Other tech support scams – Online messages and popups, virus software
The other common type of tech support scam is a popup in your internet browser that informs you of viruses infecting you computer that need to be cleaned. These are usually caused by a malware infection which will redirect your web browser to a scam page at boot up and can be difficult to get rid of. From here they take a few different forms.
- The most common one seem to be a popup that tells you you have multiple viruses that need to be cleaned. They may direct you to site to download “anti virus software”. Usually this anti virus software is bogus and will essentially “pretend” to scan your system and then report back bogus data. When you try and use the clean option you are told you need to pay anything from £39.99 to £99.99 to activate the software to cleanup the viruses. If you pay this amount you find your money gone and your system still in the exact same state.
- Another common one similar to to the tech support scams over the telephone above is a scam where they get YOU to call them! Again this can look like it is from any company in the world they are using the trust in a well known name to pull you in and worse you have no idea what you are paying for that phone call!Now if they can get you to call them then they have already won as consciously or not you have given them a degree of trust which makes their job easier. There is also the worry that these numbers could be premium rate numbers that are charging £5 per minute!. After calling the number the scam runs similar to other phone scams. They will offer to fix the error at a hefty fee, will run some basic software to remove the message and leave you with potentially unknown software on your computer. They seem to have a greater success rate with this type of scam as you are the ones calling them.
So what can I do?
First of all DO NOT CALL THE NUMBER. I would always advise sending it to a professional to get it checked and cleaned up. The problem with allowing someone access to your computer is you do not know what they have put on your computer. Having said that if you are confident in cleaning it up there are a number of free tools out their such as malwarebytes and TDSSKiller (anti rootkit) that can help cleanup your computer.
- NEVER give anyone access to your computer unless you are 100% who they are
- ALWAYS ring the companies customer support number on your bill if you are unsure if the caller is genuine
- NEVER install software on your computer if you are unsure of what it is
- ALWAYS keep your computer and anti-virus fully up to date
- NEVER give out login details and passwords over the phone, a legitimate company will never ask you for full passwords etc.
- ALWAYS make your passwords and logins strong and unique and dont write them in a word document on your desktop which surprisingly many people still do. If you do this anyone you give access to your computer can see or copy this document. Look at an offline password manager like My Login Vault.
There are so many tech support scams out there that it is hard to keep up and new ones pop up regularly or disappear for a while and then surface again. If it is not a scam like the above it is someone trying to get your bank details or your pension or in a case I read about recently selling a guys house when he had no idea!. The point is that sadly we should all have a level of distrust nowadays if we want to keep our data and ourselves safe. Please share with friends and family so that as many people as possible are aware of these tech support scams which will hopefully put these criminals out of business.