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Fake PC technical support telephone calls from your ISP or Microsoft

I regularly visit customers to fix problems with their laptops or desktop PCs and it surprising just how many mention that they have had a telephone call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft offering to fix a problem with their computer. I am writing this blog post to hopefully help people to avoid being scammed by these callers or to advise people who might have had one of these telephone calls and are worried or concerned.

Firstly, these callers are definitely a scam. They are operated from call centres in countries outside of the UK and they will ring huge volumes of telephone numbers, sometimes using details (such as your name) that they get from telephone directories or publicly available information (so don’t be fooled if they do have your name!). They are hoping to take advantage of someone they hope will not be technically knowledgeable enough to see through what they are doing. They often ring older people for this reason.

They generally operate in the same way. They will claim to be from “Microsoft” or from your broadband company or ISP. I myself had one that claimed to be from a company called “PC Technical Support” who dealt with the technical support for all(!) broadband suppliers in the UK (Sky, Virgin Media, BT…) – which gets around the fact that they do not know what Internet provider you are with! They will then say that they have noticed or been notified of problems with your PC (or, if they are from your “Internet Provider”, problems with your Internet connection). What they are hoping for is to fool you enough so that you will give them remote access to your PC and hand over your money. In order to do this they will usually ask you to go onto your computer and open a program that is in every version of Windows called “Event Viewer”. This program simply logs details of all messages, warnings and error reports by Windows, and the vast majority of times they are of no concern whatsoever (and when they are, it will not be what the scammers say). The reason they get you to do this is that they can guarantee that there will be some error messages in there (harmless) and the error messages have a nice visible red cross next to them.  They will use these errors and the big red cross to scare you. However, they may get you to do something else rather than use Event Viewer, so do not be fooled if it is not exactly the same – the end result is to scare you into thinking that harmless things are evidence of major errors or that you have been hacked. For example, I have heard that some callers get you to open a particular directory on your computer and tell you that all of the files there are evidence that you have been “hacked”. It can always be ignored.

The next step – and the thing you definitely want to avoid – is they will try to convince you to download a program that gives them remote access to your computer. The program they will ask you to download is – usually – a legitimate program. They are programs that actual computer technicians use sometimes to deal with problems remotely, but the difference is that we will never ring someone unsolicited and ask you to do it.  Once they have access to the computer, as well as gaining access to your confidential files, they can essentially blackmail you. They will ask you to pay a fee for them to fix all of the errors (usually into the £100+ pounds) or to enter into some sort of bogus support contract with them – and they may even direct you to a suspicious Website to ask you to enter in your bank details. If you fail to do so, and they have remote access to your computer, then I know of customers who have been essentially locked out of their computer. One trick the scammers do is to encrypt the Windows registry which will not let you into Windows without knowing the password and is very difficult (but in many cases, not impossible) to reverse. They also delete files, install viruses and malware, and so on.

The key thing to remember is that if you get an unsolicited phone call from someone claiming that there is a problem with your computer or Internet connection, be very, very suspicious. Microsoft will not call you up unsolicited, so if they claim to be from Microsoft – just hang up immediately. I would always suggest hanging up if you get any unsolicited telephone call about your computer. The problem has been going on for a long time, as this Guardian article from 2010 indicates. However, if you do enter into a discussion with them:

– Ask if there is a fee for the service upfront. If they say that there is, hang up immediately.
– If they say they are from Microsoft, hang up. As I linked to above, Microsoft will not ring you up unsolicited.
– If they are from another company, then again no legitimate technical support company will cold call you so hang up.
– If you have not had any problems with your computer and they are saying that there is, hang up.
– If they claim to be from your broadband supplier, ask questions to verify that they actually are legitimate. If in doubt, hang up and call your supplier to check – preferably from a different telephone.
– Try to get some information from them about who they are, and what company they work for. If they claim to provide support for all broadband companies, hang up as no-one provides this service and they will not ring you without you contacting them.
– Never give them access to your computer, and never give them any payment or bank details.

So to summarise, if someone calls you up unsolicited about a problem with your computer you can be certain that it is a scam and you should always hang up before allowing them to try to convince you. If you are having problems with your Internet connection and you get one of these phone calls, politely decline and then contact your broadband provider separately.

Of course, if you do have problems with your desktop PC or laptop then Firecrest Computing can help you – as many of our loyal customers will testify! – but we will not ring you to tell you there is a problem that you didn’t know about. Contact us to discuss your problem and we will provide a quote for fixing it. We can even come to your home to fix any problems.

If you do think that you have been the victim of such a scam, then if you have supplied any bank details or paid while they had remote access to your computer, then contact your bank immediately and inform them. You will also need to have your computer checked for malicious software and a thorough security check and clean up. Firecrest provide such a service, so simply contact us and I can come around, check your computer and hopefully put your mind at rest.

Don’t get scammed. Hang up on any unsolicited calls from “Microsoft” or any other technical support company that you cannot verify.

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