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Reports of tech support scams rocket, earning handsome returns for fraudsters

A typical technical support scam works like this:

1. A user receives a phone call, claiming to come from an operating system vendor or ISP claiming that a security problem has been found on the user’s computer.

One trick fraudster may use to gain a less technically savvy user’s confidence by tricking them into looking for error messages in Windows Event Viewer’s logs.

In fact, such entries are completely harmless and should not be considered evidence of a malware infection.

2. The scammer tricks their intended victim into giving them remote access to the user’s computer in order to “fix” the issue. In truth they install a remote access trojan (RAT).

3.The scammer claims to have identified fake “threats” on the victim’s computer, and scares the user into handing over their payment details or making an online purchase to “fix” the computer.

Usually the scammer will present the situation as urgent and requiring immediate action in order to prevent their intended victim from checking with a tech-savvy friend or relative.

In some cases, the scam will begin with the user seeing bogus security alerts on their computer, which urge them to “call support” for advice.

New statistics published by Microsoft reveal that the number of complaints its own customer services team have received about tech support scams have risen 24% since 2016, with some 153,000 reports from 183 different countries around the world.

15% of the complainants admitted that they have lost cash to the scammers, losing between $200 and $400 on average. The financial losses can be much higher, however. One report received by Microsoft in December 2017 detailed a scammer who had drained a bank account belonging to a victim in the Netherlands to the tune of 89,000 Euros (US $108,000).

The problem isn’t limited to Windows desktop PCs – all manner of devices and operating systems have been targeted, including mobile platforms and Apple Macs – but I think it is fair to say that most commonly the callers do claim to be calling from Microsoft, or on behalf of a company working with Microsoft.

Microsoft is itself at pains to point out that it does not send unsolicited email messages or make unsolicited phone calls offering to fix computers, or requesting personal or financial information.

It simply isn’t in the business of proactively reaching out to people to offer them technical support.

In a similar vein, a genuine Microsoft error message or security warning will never include a phone number. So don’t ring it!

This is all fairly simple advice for you and me to follow, and I’d like to think that if you’re reading Bitdefender’s Hot for Security blog, you’re already more security-savvy than the typical computer user.

But don’t forget that even though you may not be duped by technical support calls like those described in this article, it’s perfectly possible that you know somebody elderly or vulnerable who could be fooled. Always be on the lookout on their behalf, be sure to warn them about “friendly” unsolicited technical support calls as they could be the next to fall victim.

If you believe you have been on the receiving end of a technical support scam you can report it to Microsoft via an online form at www.microsoft.com/reportascam

About the author

Graham CLULEY

Graham Cluley is an award-winning security blogger, researcher and public speaker. He has been working in the computer security industry since the early 1990s, having been employed by companies such as Sophos, McAfee and Dr Solomon's. He has given talks about computer security for some of the world's largest companies, worked with law enforcement agencies on investigations into hacking groups, and regularly appears on TV and radio explaining computer security threats.

Graham Cluley was inducted into the InfoSecurity Europe Hall of Fame in 2011, and was given an honorary mention in the "10 Greatest Britons in IT History" for his contribution as a leading authority in internet security.

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  • As reports of fraud are on the rise after those call their victim representing the operating system vendor or the ISP by saying they have encountered errors and want to gain remote access not before one trick is to prevent the end user from contacting a tech savvy friend or relative when the scammer had threatened to put ransomware on the end users computer when they scare the victim to hand over payment details for an online fix. those would believe apple products aren't immune when the trend of the tech giant had claimed to throttle older models of its I-phone to conserve the battery pack when there was reports the I-phone was working fine prior to a software update as afterwards the smartphone was running that slugglishly the end user had taken the phone to an apple store for a battery replacement not before there could have been reports the end user has a paper weight when apple was accused of getting its consumers to upgrade their handsets for the newest models.