How to Recognize and Avoid Bogus Tech Support Calls

“Hello. This is Microsoft Tech Support. Your PC has notified us that it has an infection.”

The caller is a scam artist!

Scams come and go, but this particular one seems to have staying power. It’s now so common that the Internet Crime Complaint Center has issued a Special Alert titled New Twist to Online Tech Support Scam. These types of scams have been around since 2010, and even though the Federal Trade Commission has shut down some instances of it, there seems to be no end in sight. Apparently, that’s because it continues to be both successful and lucrative.

A Microsoft survey of 7,000 users found that 22 percent of those who received fake tech support calls followed the instructions they were given. Of those who fell for the scams, 79 percent reported some sort of financial loss; $875 on average. Seventeen percent had money taken from their accounts. Nineteen percent reported compromised passwords. Seventeen percent more were victims of identity theft. Fifty-three percent said they had “computer problems” following the fake tech support calls.

Of course, what usually happens is that the scammer runs a fake scan which shows all sorts of problems, then scares the victim into paying for a solution or a subscription to worthless “security” software. In other cases, the scammer’s goal is to steals the victim’s financial data or install botnet software that enslaves the victim’s computer.

Following is a word-for-word narrative from a computer user who was recently on the receiving end of a typical tech-support con. This narrative, and the resources listed at the end of this article, will help you and the people you care about avoid falling prey to this malicious tactic.

If you receive a call from anyone from Microsoft, or claiming to be a Microsoft Partner offering to fix your computer, hang up immediately — it’s a scam!

This morning I received a telephone call (the second such call in two weeks) about infected files on my computer. The caller then offered to fix the problem. Suspecting a scam, I decided to play along.

I think it was the same caller both times. He had a foreign accent, the kind I’m used to hearing on outsourced help lines. I asked the caller’s name both times; the first time he replied, ‘Mike Tyler,’ and the second time he was ‘Andrew.’ He began the call by saying that he was with a company called Microtek, an authorized support center for Windows operating systems.

I immediately asked if this was a sales call. Without directly answering my question, he launched into what sounded like a script: ‘Our servers have received information from your computer that indicates it is infected.

When I questioned him about his company, he told me I’d find ‘Microtek’ listed in an online business directory; as if a listing in the directory were proof that his call was legitimate! When asked where the company was located, he replied, ‘Houston, Texas.’ I then asked for his employee ID; he gave me ‘MSCE079502’.

After the call, I ran an online search and came up with a Microtek in Houston, a training facility for business computer users; not a technical-support center. I assume the caller just picked Microtek’s name off the Web. I don’t believe the real Microtek had anything to do with the bogus tech-support call.

Changing topics, I asked how he knew my computer was infected. He replied that his company is an authorized Microsoft Partner and, because I use Microsoft Windows, my computer sends notifications to Microtek servers.

When I asked how he knew about my specific computer; he stated that his server gets updates from my PC. He then asked whether I had run Windows Update? When I said yes, he went on to say that Microtek servers got the information about the infected files in my system via Windows Update.

I countered, stating that Windows Update goes only to Microsoft servers, not Microtek servers. But he simply repeated that Microtek is an authorized Microsoft Partner.

Next, I asked him which one of my computers was infected (I have several), to which he said something vague about a MAC address. When asked which MAC address he had for my machine, he would state only that, for ‘security reasons,’ he couldn’t tell me the MAC address (even though it was my own PC).

At this point, I expressed my doubts about all this information. But he was quite persistent, stating that, ‘some of our clients in your area have been affected by the infected files on your machine.’ He then claimed I had upward of ‘1,000 infected files.’ When asked who these local clients were, he said he couldn’t tell me (of course).

I asked how his clients’ machines could possibly be affected by my home computer. He didn’t answer this but went directly to the following: ‘OK, I’ll show you the infected files on your computer.’ He instructed me to enter .inf into the Start menu search box, then declared that all these files were infected, and that .inf stands for ‘infected’ or ‘infection’).

At that point, I said I didn’t believe that was true; it was my understanding that .inf was a particular type of file that comes with software installed on my computer.

At this point, he ended the call, probably because I knew that .inf didn’t refer to infected files. As it was, I’d had him on the line for a good 15 minutes.

As I mentioned, this is the second such cold call I’ve received in about two weeks. The pitch given in the two calls was very consistent and surmised there must be many others who have been presented with the same scam.”

Bogus Tech-Support Calls Raise Red Flags!

Three of the con-artist’s assertions in the above narrative should immediately alert you that this call is a scam:

1) That Microsoft or one of its Partners made the call. False! Microsoft flatly states:

“Neither Microsoft nor our Partners make unsolicited phone calls (also known as “cold” calls) to charge you for computer security or software fixes. Do not trust unsolicited calls. Do not provide any personal information.”

2) Windows Update collects personally identifiable information: False, again!

Even if they wanted to, neither Microsoft nor its Partners can track you down and cold-call you via information acquired by Windows Update. The online Windows Update Privacy Statement page states unequivocally: “Windows Update is committed to protecting your privacy and does not collect your name, address, e-mail address, or any other form of personally identifiable information.”

3) The extension “.inf” stands for “information”, not “infection”.

An .inf file is a plain-text file containing information Windows uses when it installs drivers. Knowledge of .inf files is somewhat specialized (not everyone knows what they’re used for) but this red flag should easily be recognized by an experienced Windows user.

How to Scam-Proof Yourself and Report Scammers

For more information on how to recognize and avoid telemarketing scams that use the Microsoft name fraudulently, visit the Federal Trade Commission Telemarketing Scamswebsite.

If you receive a scam-related phone call, contact the FTC at 1-877-382-4357 or visit theComplaint Assistant website. If you’re on the receiving end of an attempted scam via the Web, you can file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Register all your phone numbers with the National Do Not Call Registry. You need to register your number(s) only once as the registry never expires. This won’t stop all unsolicited calls but it will stop most. If your number is on the Registry and you still receive calls, they are likely to be from scammers ignoring the law. In this case, call the FTC number listed above and file a complaint.

Tech-Support Cons Play on Our Too-Often-Justified Fears of Malware Infections

To ensure that your PC is configured properly to help prevent malware infections, download and run the free Microsoft Internet Security Fit-It Tool. The software is an automated “fix-it” application that checks whether various Windows security settings are configured for maximum safety. If anything is amiss, the troubleshooter can make changes for you automatically or allows you to change them manually.

If you suspect that your PC is already infected with a virus of malware, immediately run one of these free standalone security tools: ESET Online Scanner, the Microsoft Safety Scanner, theEmsisoft Emergency Kit, or the Panda Cloud Cleaner. I highly recommend that you also download and run the free version of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware.

Invest in an Enterprise Level Anti-Virus/Anti-Malware Software Suite

There are many good products available, some of which are free, such as Avast Anti-Virus and AVG Anti-Virus however I recommendation that you use the latest version of Kaspersky Internet Security/Anti-Virus. Visit AV to see why I so highly recommend Kaspersky Anti-Virus software. In a recent article, “Kaspersky Lab Wins Product of the Year in AV-Comparatives Annual Awards”, Kaspersky was awarded “Product of the Year” [2013 and 2014] by the highly respected independent testing laboratory AV-Comparatives. The award is based on the findings of nine different comparative tests of consumer anti-virus solutions conducted over the year. Most significant is that Kaspersky was the only company to be awarded AV-Comparative’s highest grade – Advanced+ – in all nine tests!”

Help Keep Everyone Safe … Share This Article

Bogus tech-support scams are widespread and on the rise. It is very likely that you or someone you care about will become a target. Computer novices, those who are “technology challenged”, and senior citizens often fall prey to these kinds of fraudulent scams. Do these folks, family members, your friends and share with them. Here are some additional tips on how to avoid tech support scam artists, and what to do it you realize you’ve been scammed:

  1. Never reveal sensitive information, such as a credit card number, to any unsolicited caller.
  2. Do not visit a Web site, install software, re-configure Windows, or follow any other instructions at the insistence of any unsolicited caller.
  3. Write down the caller’s name, company, and contact information. It may very well be fake, but at least you’ll have something to give to the police or other authorities.
  4. If you fall for a fake tech support scam and later realize your mistake, treat the incident as a serious security breach. Immediately change all of your passwords. Uninstall any software that you installed at the caller’s behest. Disable remote access if you enabled it.
  5. Run a full anti-malware scan, and run System Restore to return your computer to an earlier date than the day the scammer worked on your computer.
  6. Check your credit card accounts closely and consider closing them if you detect any unauthorized transactions.

WindowsXP8Support Secure Remote Support Service

I trust that this information has increased your knowledge and awareness about bogus tech support scams. If you ever need assistance with securing, cleaning and/or optimizing, or removing malware from your computers, please consider using WindowsXP8Support’s Quick Support (“QS”) Remote Computer Repair Services to return your computer to its original performance, in fact, to “better than new” condition.

No lugging your computer to the repair shop only to be left without your computer for several days. We’ll log onto your computer over a secure Internet connection using BeamYourScreenand will have you up-and-running in a few hours. You don’t even need to be present however if you would like to learn how to repair and maintain your computer you’re more than welcome to sit back and watch the show!