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Fake Windows tech support calls continue to plague consumers

Gregg Keizer | Nov. 21, 2013
A year after an FTC crackdown, scammers persist in trying to dupe PC owners

More than a year after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) heralded a major crackdown on fraudsters posing as Microsoft technical support personnel, consumers continue to receive calls from scammers.

"I received six phone calls about this Windows support scam," said Mariene Walmsley in an email to Computerworld last week. "The man sounded like [he had] a Filipino accent and wanted access to my computer to repair the errors. I finally told him [twice] not to call again."

Walmsley said the Caller ID on her phone identified the source as "Windows Support," with a phone number that had an area code of 425, which serves a section of western Washington State, including Bellevue.

Microsoft is in nearby Redmond, Wash.

Computerworld continues to receive a steady stream of emails about the tech support scams months after the FTC touted charges against six firms, most based in India, and an even longer stretch since Computerworld first reported on the fraud.

Another reader reported that she'd fallen for the fraudster's pitch.

"Due to my ignorance about this scam, I agreed to whatever she told me to do," wrote the reader, referring to the caller who claimed she worked at Microsoft. "I agreed [that] my computer [could] be remote-controlled by a certain software called TeamWeaver, paid for the service through my credit card, shared my personal details and credit card info and allowed the so-called 'technician' to install software such as Google Chrome, Advanced System Care 6 and CC Cleaner."

The scams are based on a combination of aggressive sales tactics, lies and half-truths. Callers pose as computer support technicians, often from Microsoft itself but also from name-brand computer makers such as Dell or large security companies like Symantec or McAfee, and try to dupe victims into believing that their computer is infected, often by having them look at a Windows log that typically shows scores of harmless or low-level errors. At that point, the sale pitch starts, with the caller trying to convince the consumer to download software or let the "technician" remotely access the PC.

The con artists charge for their "help" and often get people to pay for worthless software. Frequently the software is not only useless, but also includes malicious Trojan horse malware that steals online account information and passwords.

This kind of fraud goes back years, but became increasing common in 2010, picked up enough steam in 2011 that Microsoft warned Windows users to be on guard and in October 2012 prompted the FTC to file charges against six scam operators. Then-FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said that the fraudsters took "scareware to a whole other level of virtual mayhem" during a news conference announcing the lawsuits.


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