Taking down fake tech support scams is a lot like playing Whack A Mole.
Right after you knock down one of those moles, in this case a fake tech support scammer who claims to be Microsoft (or from Windows), then another one pops up in its place. It is a constant battle to stay ahead of these scammers tactics but there is a large portion of the population who are not computer savvy and these scams are directly targeting those vulnerable consumers.
For those of us who work in and around tech on a daily basis we know that Microsoft does not monitor our computers for errors but imagine someone who uses their computer more like an appliance. They hit a button and then do basic tasks like access email or browse the web.
Now take it a step further and realize they are likely running an older version of Windows or a poorly maintained system that has issues with performance and errors every once in a while.
Then out of the blue a phone call comes into their home claiming to be Microsoft, Windows or just a tech support company who was monitoring their computer and saw several errors being reported. They then tell them they have called to help solve those issues.
Next, if the unsuspecting victim allows them which is quite likely, the scammer gives them the steps to access the Windows System Event Viewer logs and instructs them to filter the results of most any log on their Windows system to see this:
Any non-tech user who is shown a screen like this would likely be convinced that there system is riddled with issues and that this timely phone call was above board and legitimate.
Next the scam caller has the victim download a tool like Team Viewer that would allow the scammer to connect remotely to the victim’s computer and take complete control of the system right under the victims nose. Since the victim is not familiar with computers beyond basic uses it can appear the scammer is fixing the system but in reality they are just deleting event logs to remove these common errors show in the screenshot above.
Along with these fake fixes the scammer could take data, disable security software or leave behind rogue software that will continue to send information to the scammer after the fake tech support call is over.
Then the bombshell. The scammer tells the victim that it will cost a huge amount of money to keep these fixes in place and continue to monitor the computer. If the victim balks then they start talking discounts for the repairs and slowly work their way down until they get the victim to a price point they can tolerate. Sometimes they will even work out a payment plan with the victim which means they will come back on a regular basis to fix the computer and continue to collect fees.
I once fixed a computer who was a victim of one of these scam tech support calls and found the text file with the number, extension and name of the tech support agent so the victim could easily call for more repairs if needed. When I called the number the person whose name was in this text document was no longer an employee but I was handed off to another supposed tech support agent. when I asked them about repairs done to the computer they insisted on having the name of the computers owner to look things up. That is when I let them know I knew they were a scam and hung up.
So as you can see from the description of this scam it preys on the unknowing computer user through no fault of their own.
Well the Federal Trade Commission is really starting to take note of these scams and serious efforts are beginning to shut them down and run them out of business.
The most recent shut downs were reported yesterday in a press release on the FTC’s website:
At the request of the Federal Trade Commission and the State of Florida, a federal court has temporarily shut down two massive telemarketing operations that conned tens of thousands of consumers out of more than $120 million by deceptively marketing computer software and tech support services. The orders also temporarily freeze the defendants’ assets and place the businesses under the control of a court-appointed receiver.
As I described above these operations focus on the unknowing computer user:
“These operations prey on consumers’ lack of technical knowledge with deceptive pitches and high-pressure tactics to sell useless software and services to the tune of millions of dollars,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “There’s no excuse for it, and we are pleased the court has taken steps to temporarily shut down these scams while our lawsuit proceeds.”
These specific scams use a software program as well that supposedly scans a users systems, shows hundreds of errors and then prompts them to call to activate the software and that is when the heavy handed sales pitch and deception really kicks in.
Here are some of the names these scammers operated under so that you can be aware of the the names they used in case you come across any of them:
- PC Cleaner Inc.
- Netcom3 Global Inc.
- Netcom3 Inc.
- Netcom3 Software Inc.
- Inbound Call Experts LLC
- Advanced Tech Supportco. LLC
- PC Vitalware LLC
- Super PC Support LLC
- Boost Software Inc.
- Vast Tech Support LLC
- OMG Tech Help
- OMG Total Protection
- OMG Back Up
- OMG Tech Help LLC
- Success Capital LLC
The bottom line here is to be vigilant at all times and know that Microsoft nor any other tech company is monitoring your computer for errors. They are calling randomly just like the email scammers send email to people randomly. They do these things in great volume because there is a percentage of users who will unfortunately fall victim to the scam efforts.
Stay safe and stay smart to protect yourself.