Consumers like when a company offers good customer service.
But scammers might.
That’s right. They impersonate company reps and try to steal money or personal data from computer users like Lewis Edge.
Edge, a 73-year-old grandfather of four, contacted Bamboozled about his experiences with these cons. He hasn’t ever fallen for one, but the calls just keep on coming and he wanted others to know what to watch out for.
“I have been repeatedly targeted by callers with a heavy foreign accent who claim to be with Microsoft or Microsoft’s security department,” Edge said, noting the originating phone number is usually blocked from his caller ID. “The callers begin the conversation by telling me that my computer is infected with a virus and they’ve called to `help me fix the problem.'”
Edge said the callers want to log on to his computer and take control of it.
“What they would do from there is anybody’s guess,” he said.
Exactly what they would do depends on the scam.
Some fraudsters will tell you to visit a legitimate web site to download software that will allow them to take control of your computer, Microsoft says on its web site. The scammers would then adjust your privacy and security settings so your computer is vulnerable and accessible to the scammers, should they want to return to your machine.
In other varieties of the scam, the caller will work with a computer user, tricking them
into installing malicious software that could capture sensitive data, such as online banking user names and passwords, the Microsoft web site says.
Credit card information is something else they’re after. They’ll tell you that you have to pay for software that will help your problem, or they may bill you for services they never provide. Or they may just steal your card numbers and sell them on the black market.
The hucksters may not ask for your credit card information directly, because hey, that’s a little suspicious. So they may direct you to a fake web site that will intake your personal financial information.
Edge said he came up with a terrific way to expose the scammy nature of these callers.
He asks them to give him the IP address of his computer.
“If my computer were infected with a virus and sending it over the internet, a company with Microsoft’s resources would certainly be able to provide me with that information,” Edge said. “When the caller cannot give me a legitimate answer to that question, I then ask them to tell me who they believe they’re calling and my physical location. Their inability to provide that information also stops them in their tracks.”
If you’re wondering how to look up your IP address, just do a quick Google search and you’ll come up with lots of web sites that will show you your address at no cost.
WHAT IF IT’S TOO LATE?
If a fake tech support person had you going for a while and you think you may have downloaded something you shouldn’t have, Microsoft offers some advice:
First, change your passwords. Do it for your computer, your email accounts, and any online bank, investment and credit card accounts.
Next, use an anti-virus or security program to scan your machine for unwanted programs and other malicious stuff. Or, use some free programs from Microsoft. It recommends you start with a scan of your computer with the Microsoft Safety Scanner, which will tell you if you have malware. Then, you can install Microsoft Security Essentials, which the company says “guards against viruses, spyware, and
other malicious software.” If you have Windows 8, Windows Defender is the program you’ll need.
Those Microsoft programs are free, the company says, so if a tech help person offers to sell them to you, it’s another scam.
And for the record, we’re not recommending these programs over other anti-virus programs. It’s just the option Microsoft offers.
Finally, you should report the scam to Microsoft. Also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
Microsoft also wants you to know that while it will never call users out of the blue, there are some cases in which the company will work with your internet service provider and call you to fix a malware-infected computer. It recently did that with something called Project MARS, short for the Microsoft Active Response for Security initiative. Among its goals is to take down “botnets (armies of malware-infected PCs operating secretly under the remote control of a criminal), seizing the infrastructure and domains criminals use to control them and taking the information we gain in those efforts to help better protect the Internet community and our customers,” the Microsoft web site says.
“These calls will be made by someone with whom you can verify you already are a customer,” the web site says. “You will never receive a legitimate call from Microsoft or our partners to charge you for computer fixes.”
If you ever want to be sure, call Microsoft directly at (800) 426-9400.
Edge says his computer is clean. He keeps it protected with highly-rated anti-virus software and he runs scans and updates regularly.
“I’m optimistic that other seniors, or other citizens, will not be gullible enough to fall for such a scam, but I receive similar calls several times per month, so the scammers are obviously persistent despite my repeated requests for them to put me on their `Do Not Call’ list,” Edge said.
We’re optimistic, too. But we’ll keep writing these stories until such scams are a thing of the past.
A girl can dream, can’t she?
Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com.