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Don’t fall for fake virus warnings!

By Alex Henderson

I get calls quite frequently that start something like this: “I just got a warning from Microsoft that my computer was infected, and to call this 800 number immediately and they would clean it up. What should I do?” My immediate response is to reboot the computer and the warning, which is totally fake, will be gone.

This, and other similar scams, have been around for a number of years, but computer users still get fooled by the increasingly sophisticated presentations they face. The consequences can be quite costly.

Consider this recent example: A couple newly arrived in Big Canoe had encountered this exact scenario shortly before they moved here. Trusting that the sender was in fact Microsoft (and later, as they claimed, technicians contracted by Microsoft) the wife clicked on the provided link and entered into a dialog with them. For a mere $29.95 they agreed to enter her computer and rid it of the offending malware. She gladly provided a credit card number, after which the “technicians’ instructed her how to activate software which would allow them to remotely take over her computer. They then took control and “cleaned it up”.

Had this episode ended at this point, this couple would have only been out $29.95 and happily gone on their way. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning. The couple was informed that in order to prevent future occurrences of the malware/virus intrusion, they could purchase a three-year 24/7 onsite protection, which entailed their technician continually monitoring their computer remotely, for only $500.

Reluctantly, but not wishing to encounter further problems, the couple agreed. Now they’re in for $529.50. Shortly thereafter, they were notified that the onsite monitoring had revealed that their “drivers had been infiltrated” and the driver restoration procedure would be another $500. Somewhere along the line the couple had decided quite correctly that since real money was being involved some more rigorous due diligence was in order. They entered the “Microsoft Contractor’s” name into Google, and found it was in fact a respected internet software company based in Connecticut, complete with a very professional website containing BBB credentials and glowing reviews from happy customers. Again reluctantly, but convinced that nothing was amiss, they paid.

Then comes the coup-de-grace. Shortly after arriving at Big Canoe the couple receives a warning that an unidentified entity within 500 yards of their house was engaged in a continuous attempt to hack into their computer. They were further advised that this attempt could be thwarted once and for all, and at no cost to them. The only requirement of them was that, because this process would involve the use of a very expensive piece of equipment from Microsoft, they would need to put down a 100 percent refundable deposit of $3,995.00. Once the threat was nullified and the very expensive piece of equipment was on its way back to Microsoft, they would be issued a “cheque” refunding their $3,995.00.

Meanwhile, I had entered the scene, setting up the couple’s computers and networking. While engaged in this, they shared with me what had been going on with the “Microsoft Contractors” and the dawning fear that they had been conned. I confirmed the con job, and encouraged them to have no further contact with these predators. Indeed, while reviewing her most recent credit card statement, the wife discovered several unauthorized charges to her credit card, most likely from our friends on the other end of the internet. They were now out over $1,700, but at least they didn’t fall for the $3,995 ploy. They immediately canceled their credit card, and we filed a fraud report with Microsoft.

There are several lessons here. If nothing else, remember this: Microsoft will never, ever, EVER reach out to you in any fashion regarding viruses, malware or malfunctioning software on your computer. If you’ve ever tried to reach Microsoft seeking help, you’ll understand how unlikely unsolicited assistance would be.

Also:

  • Those scary looking warnings that pop up on your monitor are just that: pop-ups. They are not viruses or malware, nor are they real. As long as you ignore them and go on about your business (maybe requiring a reboot) you’ll be fine.
  • Don’t ever give anyone claiming to be Microsoft or Windows or anyone else a credit card number without consulting a trusted technical advisor - if you don’t have one, a grandchild will probably suffice.
  • Don’t ever allow anyone you don’t know to remotely take control of your computer. The exception to this is if you went to them seeking help, not the other way around.

A final note or two (or more): Despite the attempt at due diligence regarding the supposed IT company, the glowing report was at the top of the Google search results. One page further down was a determination that this was a scam company, that the website was less than six months old and that the anonymous website owner resided in Panama. Also, in plain view on the phony Microsoft invoice was the email address of the “technician” which ended in @microsoft.co.in. This clearly shows the involvement of an India-based spoofer.

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