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Computer Tech Support
Phone Scams

Last Update: 3-19-2017

Jim Stamm 231-882-5673

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There are now many types of phone scams related to computers out there. Discussed below are just a few of the major ones...

Type 1: Unsolicited computer tech support phone calls, or expired Windows License Key calls

If you receive an unsolicited phone call from someone claiming to be Windows or Microsoft, a company hired by Microsoft, your Internet service provider, some other computer company, a tech support company, or even a government organization – HANG UP – it's s scam! (But, if you want to report them, first get the caller's information (caller's name, company name, address, city, and state, and phone number) and immediately report it to your local authorities, the FTC, and the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).)

NEW: Or they may claim it's an emergency call about your expired Windows License Key and that all services have stopped. They ask that you call them immediately. DO NOT CALL THAT NUMBER – it's a scam. (Windows license keys do not expire. With this scam, it's easier if you call them, then they do not have to waste time on people who know or figure out it's a scam.)

Many people in this area (northwestern lower Michigan), as well as across the country, have received such calls. THEY ARE NOT LEGITIMATE COMPANIES– they are scammers. None of the companies the scammer claim to be will make cold calls like this. In fact, I've read that there's "not one (legitimate) American, Canadian, or British computer company (that) makes unsolicited phone calls."

Here's what typically happens...

  • The caller may claim to have detected problems on your computer, or ask if you are having any issues on your computer – most people say yes. They will try to often scare you into believing that you have serious problems that must be fixed immediately. THEY ARE LYING. (Know that any caller who creates a sense of urgency or uses high-pressure tactics is most likely a scam artist.) They may have you do things and go places and feed you FALSE information, all designed to scare into thinking something is wrong, when it is not!!

  • Don't be surprised if they know your name! Cybercriminals often use publicly available phone directories, so they might know your name and other personal information when they call you. They might even guess what operating system you're using.

  • You may notice that the caller's number did not appear on your phone, a sign that they were using some Voice over IP (VoIP) or other technology that both completely hides their identity and costs them nothing for long distance calls.

  • They will say they need to fix now the problems they claim are on your computer. They want to install software and do other things to fix the “problems”. DO NOT LET THEM.

  • They may try to enroll you in a worthless computer maintenance or warranty program. Just say, “NO!”

  • They will ask you to take steps that allow them to remotely access your computer. DO NOT DO THAT. (They may ask you to run software such as Ammyy Admin, GoToAssist, LogMeIn, Teamviewer, or Zoho Assist, use Web sites such as fastsupport.com. Or, they give you special codes to type in, or ask you to give them a special code that appears on youtr screen. Or they ask ytou to change some computer settings.) Again, DO NOT DO THAT. Heed the warning found at the fastsupport.com Web site and "be (extremely) cautious if you receive unsolicited requests to access your computer. Only join support sessions with people you fully recognize and trust." Allowing anyone to remotely access your computer is EXTREMELY dangerous because your computer is virtually in the hands of “bad-guys". Once on your machine, they can do anything they like, just as if they were sitting at it. This includes:
    • change settings to make your computer vulnerable to the bad guys,
    • use your Web browser to go to your favorite sites (such as your bank, credit card, investment, shopping, and email accounts),
    • access all your files,
    • install viruses and malware (malicious software that can steal sensitive data, such as user names and passwords),
    • gather information that may help them steal your identity,
    • remove software,
    • remove your data,
    • remove critical system files and drivers,
    • install their own programs which can capture sensitive data, such as online banking user names and passwords.

  • If they ask for your password, DO NOT GIVE IT TO THEM! Never give your password to anyone you do not know extremely well). No legitimate organization will call and ask for your password.

  • And by all means, NEVER, EVER give them your credit card number!!! And do not buy anything in any way from them!

  • Here is a video of one user's experience, and an explanation of what happened.

What you SHOULD do...

  • If you do receive such a call, HANG UP, (But, if you want to report them, first get the caller's information (caller's name, company name, address, city, state, and phone number) and then contact your local police department or sheriff's office. There's not a lot they can do, but they want to be aware of what's happening to citizens in the area. Also, report the call to the FTC as well as the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

  • For those with Windows computers, as it says on Microsoft's Web site, "Whenever you receive a phone call or see a pop-up window on your PC and feel uncertain whether it is from someone at Microsoft, [please] don't take the risk. We recommend that you:

  • For those with Mac computers, call Apple at 800-275-2273.

  • If you have allowed one of these malicious outfits to access to your computer...

    • Turn off your Internet connection, then turn off your computer.

    • Contact your favorite local computer technician – only turn your Internet connection and computer back on if he/she says it's OK. As soon as possible, have the technician remove the software the scammers used to access your computer, turn off remote access, remove any other software they installed, reinstall software they removed, search for and remove malware on your computer, and more.

    • Immediately call your bank or financial institution to freeze all your accounts.

    • If you happened to have given the scammers your credit card number, or they otherwise obtained these numbers (such as from an online account), immediately contact your credit card company and have them stop the payment. And reverse any future charges that appear on your credit card statement from the scammers. You may want to consider getting new credit / debit cards — that way if the scammers stole this information, you can feel safe in knowing they cannot use it.

    • If you gave the bad guys any passwords, go to the accounts involved and change the passwords there immediately. If you use the same password for other accounts, change it for those accounts, as well. (You can see why it's important to use a different password for each account.)

    • To be safe, change the password to access your computer, the password on your email account(s), and the password for any financial accounts, especially with your bank, investment company, and credit card. Change any passwords at places where you do any online shopping and use a credit card. Some experts even to say to change ALL your passwords!

    • For those with Windows computers:

      • For those Windows 7 and earlier, install and scan with the free Microsoft Security Essentials. Turn off its real-time scanning feature so it does not interfere with your main anti-virus software. For those with Windows 8 and new users, "Windows Defender replaces Microsoft Security Essentials and it runs in the background and notifies you when you need to take specific action. However, you can use it anytime to scan for malware."

  • Know that any problem they claim might be on the computer, if actually present, in most cases can be fixed with free or inexpensive software. If you are truly having issues with your computer, contact your favorite local computer technician to resolve those issues. Never allow some unknown, unsolicited company to do this! In fact, never allow anyone remote access to your computer unless you absolutely know and trust the person extremely well.

Type 2: Online search results

Unless you are very careful, using a search engine (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.) can be a dangerous way to find technical support or get a company's contact information. To be safe, never go to an ad found at a search engine. Be extremely leery of any phone number that appears in the search reuslts.

Scammers place online ads at search engines to convince you to call them, or pay to boost their ranking in the search results, so their sites can appear above those of legitimate companies.

If you go to a link in the results, always make sure the Web address is that of the company for whom you are searching . In fact, it's best to go to the company's main Web site and then locate their support page once there. Or look for the company's contact and support information in the documentation that came with the hardware or software in question.

But, if you did happen to call one of these outfits, and they got on your computer, see the "What you SHOULD do" section above.

Type 3: Pop-up window or Web browser tab...

A. Claiming you have serious computer problems

A common type of malware (malicious software) can present itself in the form of a pop-up window or a new tab in Web browser software (such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, and Safari) that claims your computer has serious problems and you must call some phone number immediately to resolve the issues. These are, of course, FAKE. Do not call the number. Instead, quit the program, restart your computer, and update and run a full scan with all of your anti-virus and anti-malware programs. If need be, contact your favorite local computer technician so he/she can remove any software that might have been involved that caused the fake warnings.

But, if you did happen to call one of these outfits, and they got on your computer, see the "What you SHOULD do" section above.

B. Claiming to offer Norton or McAfee Antivirus software for free

Another new type of malware (malicious software) can present itself in the form of a pop-up window that claims to offer Norton or McAfee Antivirus software for free. (Just because it has the name and/or logo of a company you can trust, does not mean the meesage is actually from them -- it's very easy for anyone to type any company's name or borrow a company's logo.) You enter personal information (that goes direct to the scammer), it may pretend to install softwre, then pops up an error message that something went wrong, and you must call some phone number immediately to resolve the issue. This is, of course, FAKE. Do not call the number. Instead, quit the program (if possible), restart your computer, and update and run a full scan with all of your anti-virus and anti-malware programs. If need be, contact your favorite local computer technician so he/she can remove any software that might have been involved that caused the fake warnings.

But, if you did happen to call one of these outfits, and they got on your computer, please see the "What you SHOULD do" section above.

Type 4: The computer repair call-back scam

You send your computer to the manufacturer for repair. After you get it back, you get a call from someone claiming to be the manufacturer. They even have the correct serial number for your comptuer, so you assume they are legit. They have you look at Windows Services and try to convince you that there are problems on the computer. (Looking at Windows Services doe NOT show you bad stuff, by the way.) They want to get on to your computer remotely to fix the issues.

Never, ever allow them remote access to your computer!

Instead, hang up immediately.

But, if you did happen to get a call from one of these outfits, and they got on your computer, please see the "What you SHOULD do" section above.

Thanks to a fellow computer technician in Northlake, IL for sending this scam to me!!

To obtain the computer owner's phone number and computer's serial number, we assume the scammer hacked the manufacturer, the repair vendor, or possibly the shipping company of the computer .

Type 5: The refund scam

If you have already paid one of these malicious companies for support services, and later they call to ask if you were happy with the service, when you say you were not, they offer a refund. Be sure you DO NOT give out any personal information, such as your credit card or bank account number. The call is yet another trick to take your money. Or, the scammer may ask you to create a Western Union account. Or they might even ask for remote access to your computer to help you fill out the necessary forms. But instead of putting money into your account, the scammers withdraw money!.

If you get a call like this, get the caller's information (caller's name, company name, address, city, and state, and phone number), then hang up, report the call to your local authorities, the FTC, and the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Never, ever allow them remote access to your computer!

Conclusion

Remember, there are many types of scams out there, so the first rule is – assume it's a hoax until it's proven otherwise. This article in Snopes ("Microsoft Impersonation Scam") says, “unless you initiated contact with Microsoft, you should dismiss as frauds ANY phone calls, emails, online chat dialogues, and the like from folks who claim they work for Microsoft and have spotted something wrong with your computer.”

There actually may be a few “semi-legitimate” computer support companies using this cold-call practice – but it's a bad business choice on their part, and they are not worth using, as they still want remote access to your computer, charge way too much, offer way too much, yet actually do way too little.

To learn more about computer-related phone scams, see the Snopes article mentioned above, see the "A few related links" section below, and/or or do a search for: phone scam computer – as there are many Web sites out there explaining these scams.

Finally – please, please, tell everyone you know with a computer about this. Too many people in this area (and throughout the country) have been taken advantage of already. Let's minimize (and hopefully eliminate) this by spreading the word.

A few related links

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