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Issue #609: March 24-30, 2019

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Q: This afternoon I received a phone call from 844-567-5237 claiming to represent windows and mac software fixes. He said every time I log on I am contaminating the web. I want to find out what they are up to. He wanted me to type an address into my laptop to repair all the damage inside my laptop. I thought you may call the number and see if is legitimate. I don’t have the knowledge to talk to or understand what they are talking about.

– Jack F.
Baker, Florida

A: I cannot tell you how happy I was to get your e-mail, Jack!  It gives me cause to discuss a type of scam that puts good, trusting people at extreme risk.  People who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the inner workings of their computer, and tend to believe someone who throws enough jargon and terminology at them.  Once fooled, these poor people open the front gate and literally welcome the scammer inside their fortifications under the guise of fixing things.  Except, nothing gets fixed, and the scammer now has full access to the victim’s computer.

To put it bluntly, you were directly targeted for exploitation by a telephone scammer. That was obvious to me just reading the first part of your description.  I did just a little bit of research on the number you provided, and my suspicions were confirmed.  There are literally hundreds of reports online about scam attempts from this number.  Fortunately for you, you were smart enough not to fall for the line of BS you were being fed.  Unfortunately, lowlifes like your caller often do succeed.  In 2018 alone, the Federal Trade Commission received over 143,000 reports of this type of scam with net losses of some $55 million. I’m glad you didn’t fall for it, and I’m more than happy to explain to you “what they are talking about.” Hopefully, we can stop a few other people from becoming victims.

Let me be clear on a few things right up front. First, this type of scam is becoming very common, and is perpetrated by many scammers from many different phone numbers. So, don’t think you can protect yourself just by blocking this particular phone number.  It’s not the number that’s the problem, it’s the caller, and the knowledge level of the person who answers.  Second, neither Microsoft, nor any computer seller has am affiliate program where they call people to tell them when something is wrong with their computer.  Third, nobody can tell based on your phone number that you even have a computer online, much less that it is “contaminating the web” (ridiculous hyperbole, intended to frighten and intimidate you).

What these scammers are primarily after is money.  To get it, they seek access to your computer system, where they hope to find account numbers, passwords, and personal information that they can then use or sell.  They attempt to gain access to your computer by tricking you into believing there is something wrong with it.  Under the guise of diagnostics and repair (which they will very likely charge you for) they are actually installing malware and scanning your files.  They don’t need to be connected to your machine for very long, and the malware they leave behind continues to work for them long after they disconnect.

The only way to combat this scam is to not fall for it in the first place.  Never, ever give access to your computer, or download anything just because someone called you and told you to do it.  Remember that nobody representing Microsoft, or any legitimate computer repair company will ever call you and offer to fix a malfunctioning machine.  If you receive such a call, your best course of action is to hang up.

The FTC has developed an infographic for consumers to explain how to identify, avoid, and report tech support scams.  Visit TinyURL.com/IGTM-0609 to learn more.

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