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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.

Kevin started taking PCs apart in the 90s when Quake was on the way and his PC lacked the required components. Since then, he’s loved all things PC-related and cool gadgets ranging from the New Nintendo 3DS to Android tablets. He is currently a contributor at Digital Trends, writing about everything from computers to how-to content on Windows and Macs to reviews of the latest laptops from HP, Dell, Lenovo, and more. 

  • I'm in the UK, and received a call from "Thomas" who worked for microsoft, apparently, which had detected a virus emanating from my PC. They knew my name, and clearly had my (ex-directory) phone number. Apart from the incredibly crackly line and Indian accent, they sound /very/ convincing. Their MO. is to start off by offering to work with you to identify the virus. A friend's parents were caught out by this. The 'support engineer', talked the user through navigating to the IE Cookie folder and demonstrated that there was personal information in that folder. He then got them to download a 'cleaner' (i.e. trojan). When he asked for payment of £435, my friend's dad had presence of mind to say "Invoice me", to which the 'engineer' hung up.

    I've called TPS, OfCom, BT and written to our local MP (recieving a reply from Ed Vasey, no less), assuring me that there's nothing anyone can do, because these scams originate abroad.

    Until someone in some power leans on BT to actually chase up these scam calls, it'll just continue, and these criminals will continue to operate with impunity.

    BT's best offer was to 'block all international calls'. I suggest that everyone call BT and ask for this feature, if you can.

  • dalethepcman
    There is a sucker born every minute, and if you don't realize this, then you probably already are, or are about to become one.
  • alidan
    im hopeing for a call like this now...

    i dont get the chance to really f with people sense telemarketers stopped calling. the last one called while i was... well lets say it involved porn and my right hand... and i put the phone close and on speaker so they could hear the sound... i miss telemarketers.
  • teflon2287
    I have been getting calls like this on and off for over a year (in Australia)...
  • opmopadop
    My friend from Australia got one of these a few weeks ago. He asked to talk to their manager lol. Funny how these scams are going around the world.
  • upgrade_1977
    I love getting people like this on the phone, especially sales people. Nothing funner then letting them do there rant, and then I say "I'm sorry, could you please repeat that"? then they do, when they are done, I ask a few questions, then I say "i'm sorry, could you please explain it to my wife"? then after they explain, I have her ask them some questions, and then wait for them to ask for the credit card number, then just hang up.. LOL, i've actually had a few of them hang up on me. Hey, time is money, nothing you can do better then waste there time.
  • sliem
    Oh man I want to get that phone call and frustrate them... "how do I turn on my computer?" "where's the start button?" "drag what? I don't have rodents in my house, sir." "Drag this across my desktop? Won't that throw everything to the floor? Who will clean that, you??"
  • livebriand
    Seriously, you really think I'll trust that?
  • livebriand
    sliemOh man I want to get that phone call and frustrate them... "how do I turn on my computer?" "where's the start button?" "drag what? I don't have rodents in my house, sir." "Drag this across my desktop? Won't that throw everything to the floor? Who will clean that, you??"LOLOLOLOLOLOL
    I've heard of people giving people complex questions ("What OS does this run?") just to baffle Best Buy employees. I'll bet it works too.
  • Had one of these a few weeks ago. Played along for quite a while - the Indian guy on the other end got me to run services.msc and said that all the processes with "stopped" next to them were responsible for the "viruses emanating from your PC, sir, at danger to yourself and your neighbours sir." ?!?

    Got as far as him trying to get me to download some remote access software before I asked him if the tables were turned would he click on an exe file if someone phoned him up from England. He said he wouldn't, sounded mightily pissed off with me and hung up... Hehe. That's 20 minutes of his time that won't be spent confusing people like my grandmother who may not be tech savvy enough to appreciate what would seem to most of us an obvious scam...