We've once again encountered a rash of scams that make use of a decidedly low-tech approach to obtain victims' credit card information and potentially install Malware: the phone call. We've spoken with clients who received phone calls from criminals claiming to be Microsoft Tecnhicians, and other sources confirm that there has been a notable increase in this type of scam.
Read on below for details on the scammers' methods, as well as what to do if you're targeted.
How the Microsoft Phone Scam Works
The scam works like this: the fraudsters place a cold call to an unassuming computer user. They claim to be from “Microsoft Tech Support,” “Windows Helpdesk,” or another legitimate-sounding group, and they tell you that they have detected a problem with your computer. Then, they get you to install an application on your computer that gives them remote access to it, which they use to show you “errors,” “malware,” or “expired licenses” that need to be addressed. And, of course, they tell you that they would be happy to fix the problem for you—if you would be so kind as to submit payment via credit card or PayPal.
Of course, the methods they use may differ from case to case, and the software they have you install may or may not be malicious. The point is that giving them access to your computer or your payment information is bad news. At the very least, you’re out whatever amount they charge for their “services.” At worst, you may download malware that compromises your personal data, and your payment information is in the hands of some very unsavory individuals.
What to Do About It
Thankfully, it’s relatively easy to guard against this particular scam. All you have to do is hang up. Unsolicited calls from Microsoft are extremely rare. In an official response to scams like these, Microsoft says that while there may be rare instances where their support team makes calls to customers to address specific malware attacks, they will always be able to verify your customer information, and they will never charge you for this kind of work.
So, when in doubt, just hang up (politely, of course). Then, we recommend that you report the scam to the FTC (1-877-FTC-HELP).
And, certainly, feel free to give us a call for more information, or for help if you have allowed one of these callers to install software on your computer.