Beware Telephone Scam! "Microsoft" Says Your Computer Has a Virus
A Common Computer Fraud
I just received a scam phone call, and I want to warn you so you don't fall for it. The scammer pretends to be from Microsoft or some other legitimate company to trick you.
Even if you wouldn't be fooled, please warn friends and relatives (especially elderly ones) who might not be aware of scams like this. Victims of this fraud could suffer anything from identity theft to having their computer hijacked and used to send spam or viruses without their knowledge.
[Update 5/2012: or the scammer could bilk you out of $150 or more, see the experience of commenter LGNTexas in the guestbook at the end of this page.]
"Your Computer Has a Virus"
Here's my transcript of this scam phone call. In my case, they didn't pretend to be Microsoft, but that's the more common version of the fraud.
[Heavily-accented Indian volce]: Hello? Hello?
Me: Who's calling, please?
Him: IT Solutions. We are calling to warn you that your computer has been infected with a virus.
Me: My computer has a virus, eh?
Him: Yes, your computer has a virus.
Me: Where did you say you were calling from?
Him: IT Solutions.
Me: No, I mean, where is your company located?
Him [after I asked several times]: The United States.
Me: Where in the United States?
Him: New York. [My caller ID showed "Bellevue, WA."]
Me: And what's your company's phone number?
Him [Says number far too fast to understand].
Me: Whoa, too fast. Please say your phone number slowly so I can understand it.
Him (after dodging the question a few more times): 717-310-3925. [My caller ID showed 425-998-1533.]
Me: You say my computer has a virus. So, what kind of computer do I have?
Him: I'm sorry?
Me: If you know my computer has a virus, then you should know what kind of computer I'm using. What kind of computer do I have?
Him: Windows NT or Windows 7. [My computer is a Mac, so there are no Windows computers in my home.]
Me: Nope. This is a scam, and I'm reporting it to the police. Goodbye!
How This Scam Steals Your Information
Actually, I didn't call the police. I called the Washington State Attorney General's office, since the call appeared to be from Washington. The operator said that the number my caller ID showed was probably fake, too. These scammers are usually off-shore and have ways to reroute the number.
She also said she had just gotten off the phone with another victim of a "your computer is infected with a virus" scam call in which the fraudster claimed to be calling from Microsoft. In that case, the victim let the phony company install malicious software on her computer.
Malicious software lets a stranger do the following over your internet connection:
- Access all information and documents stored on your computer
- Track your typing so that they can log all your passwords, credit card numbers, or anything else you type
- Monitor your purchases, your email, your web browsing
- Control your computer without your knowledge, using it to send viruses out to everyone on your email contacts list
- Lock you out of your computer and damage or erase its contents
Usually they'd rather not erase your hard drive, since it's more useful to turn your computer into a "zombie," operating or accessing it remotely without your knowledge. Huge networks of "zombie" computers are pressed into service by scam companies for all kinds of purposes! The "zombie" computer's real user cannot tell their computer is serving another master, except perhaps by the fact that the computer seems to have slowed down slightly.
Looking online, I saw more reports of people being scammed by telemarketers claiming to be calling from Microsoft with, "Your computer has been infected with a virus." I'm sure the real IT Solutions isn't connected with this scam: my telemarketer just borrowed a respectable company's name to sound more convincing.
[Update: I initially suggested just hanging up on these con artists, but a commenter below has a good suggestion: tell them that are recording the conversation for your records. In at least one case, this stopped the calls for good.]
If you've been a victim of this scam, look up your state attorney general's website and search for a "fraud report" or "consumer complaints" area. Here's some useful links below (I reported this call to both of them):
Where to Report Phone Fraud
- National Do Not Call Registry
The U.S. National Do Not Call Registry allows you to register your phone number. U.S. telemarketers are legally required to check this list; if they call numbers on it, they're liable for prosecution. Enforcement isn't great, but every bit helps.
- FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection - Consumer Information
The Federal Trade Commission doesn't resolve individual consumer complaints, but if there's enough reports of the same fraud, they may be able to go after the scam and shut it down.
What If They Put a Virus on My Computer?
- How to Remove Malware From Your Windows PC | PCWorld
I am NOT a Windows user, so unfortunately I don't know how to clear out viruses and spyware on a PC. This article from PCWorld looks like an excellent guide; I hope it helps!
- Got a Computer Virus? Here's What to Do (and Not Do)
Here's another good guide, and the "What NOT to do" tips are worth checking. If it were my PC, I'd take it to a repair shop I trusted (assuming there is such a shop) to let an expert check it over.