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Microsoft Warns of Internet Phone Scam

Thursday Microsoft said that there's an emerging form of Internet fraud that is costing victims an average of $875 USD. But unlike the typical phishing hooks that arrive via email and lead to identity-stealing malware, these scammers are making it personal by contacting consumers directly by phone, posing as computer security engineers.

"The scam works by criminals posing as computer security engineers and calling people at home to tell them they are at risk of a computer security threat," Microsoft said Thursday. "The scammers tell their victims they are providing free security checks and add authenticity by claiming to represent legitimate companies and using telephone directories to refer to their victims by name."

Microsoft said that once these phone-calling sharks have tricked their prey into believing they have a problem and that the caller can help, the scammers supposedly run through a range of "deception techniques" designed to steal money.

After surveying 7,000 computer users in the U.K., Ireland, U.S. and Canada, Microsoft discovered that 15-percent of the participants actually received a call from the scammers. Out of that group alone, 22-percent actually fell for the phone scam and followed the hackers' instructions which ranged from permitting remote access to their computer, downloading the hackers' software code, providing credit card information and making a purchase.

"The vast majority (79-percent) of people deceived in this way suffered some sort of financial loss," Microsoft said. "17-percent said they had money taken from their accounts, 19-percent reported compromised passwords and 17-percent were victims of identity fraud. More than half (53-percent) said they suffered subsequent computer problems."

The lowest amount of money stolen from victims was $82 in Ireland, and the highest spiked to a hefty $1,560 in Canada. The cost to repair the damage caused by the hackers have ranged from $1,730 to $4,300 so far.

"The security of software is improving all the time, but at the same time we are seeing cybercriminals increasingly turn to tactics of deception to trick people in order to steal from them," said Richard Saunders, director of International Public and Analyst Relations at Microsoft. "Criminals have proved once again that their ability to innovate new scams is matched by their ruthless pursuit of our money."

To read more, check out Microsoft's survey results here.