Recently in the news there have been reports about scams where you receive a phone call (and in many cases, several calls) informing you that there is some problem with your computer that requires urgent attention. If you have received such a call, you may be wondering what you can do to protect yourself and your computer system. If you have not received a call, it is likely only a matter of time before you do.
Computer scams have been evolving and increasing. Early scams started with an unsolicited phone call from a person stating they were from Microsoft. The caller usually stated that they were receiving warnings from your computer indicating that it had viruses, and you could ‘fix’ your system by going to a website and installing their software. Many people are aware of the ‘Microsoft’ telephone scam. However, as with everything scammers do, they keep evolving their ‘pitch’, so always be cautious if someone rings you about your computer.
A typical phone call from a potential computer scammer goes something like this:
Hello, I am (name) from (some official sounding organisation/company, or a Microsoft Partner). Are you aware that we have been receiving reports from your computer (or another company) that your computer has viruses / has been sending spam / is in danger of crashing and losing all your data / etc. Your computer is slow / Have you been experiencing any of the following … (list of ‘symptoms). If you look at this area of your computer you will see these ‘problems’…
Typically, the so-called ‘problems’ identified by the scammer are nothing more than normal events on your computer system. If you are still on the phone at this point, they will often use anything you say to prove what they are claiming is true. At Four Quarters Computing, even we have been called, and the person calling us went to great efforts to try and convince us that he was legitimate, even though we had already told him that we were an IT company and were very familiar with the workings of our own computers!
How do the scammers know enough to make you believe that your computer has problems?
In some instances they may have phoned you in the weeks or months beforehand, pretending to do a survey of computer use in your household or business. From this, they gain enough information to feed it back to you when they call on the second occasion.
In other cases, they work from the perspective of probability – we all know that computers will have problems over time, just like we all experience a headache from time to time. For example, if I were to randomly call up 100 people and say ‘You have a headache and the reason for this is…’ there is bound to be someone from among the 100 people who actually does have a headache (or just had one). With computers, it is important to understand that it is common for them to slow down or ‘glitch’ randomly due to a variety of factors, and that these events do not typically represent a major problem with your computer system. However, scammers know that if you happen to receive their call in the middle of or shortly after such an incident with your computer, you are more likely to listen to and believe what the caller is saying, even though you may have suspicions.
What are the scammers trying to achieve?
In our experience, the majority are trying to sell a service or software ‘solution’ to ‘fix’ your computer system that you possibly do not really need. Unfortunately, in some cases they are also looking to obtain your personal information for identity theft, or to actually install viruses or spam software on your computer.
All computers will have problems over time. If you are concerned about your computer or how it is working, we recommend that you call a reputable local company or IT technician to discuss the problem. Do not let a random phone call trick you into letting someone you do not know have access to your computer system and all your important or sensitive information.
What to do if you get a call from a potential scammer?
Keep in mind that no legitimate company will call you out of the blue to tell you things you do not know about your computer.
If you do get a call from a scammer, it can be tempting to call their bluff. But in doing so, you may also encourage further contact from them. One effective response to these callers that we have heard of is to deny owning a computer – several people that have done this have not heard back from the scammers for a while!
If you have received a phone call from a scammer and inadvertently allowed them to remotely access your computer, we recommend that you have your system checked by a legitimate IT professional as soon as possible. You should also change important passwords as soon as you are confident that your system is secure, or from a different computer.
For further information about computer scams and other known scams see Scamwatch at www.scamwatch.gov.au