The Geek Report

The Microsoft Scam

Adam Darack sm.jpgAdam Darack is the IT guy for the town of Edgartown. He’ll be writing The Geek Report every other week, addressing the technological troubles and traumas we all share. Got a question for the Geek? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.

Scams come in many shapes and sizes, from the lonely Nigerian widow looking to transfer millions into my bank account to free iPad offers and everything in between. The one I’ll address this week starts in a way that would catch most of us off guard. The people I know who have been hit by it are not normally gullible types, which made me take notice of this scam above the countless others I hear about on a weekly basis.

The phone rings. When you answer, the caller claims to be from Microsoft. A heavily accented voice spouts off information about you — your address, a former address, your birthday (all publicly accessible information). The caller tells you your computer has viruses which have been sending error messages to Microsoft, which, they say, prompted their call. They instruct you how to open your event log, which will show a bunch of errors because…well, it’s Windows and issues will always appear in these logs. The caller then acts surprised to hear the high number of problems with your computer and claims this is because your version of Microsoft has expired. They say can renew your license for another two years for $300. This will be done by remotely connecting to your computer, but a credit card is required to continue, this information imparted with undertones of fire and brimstone.

Once they have access to your computer (and all of your information), a program will appear to be running on your screen, then you will be told the problem is worse than originally thought and more money is needed to continue. When you refuse, they get angry and threaten to lock you out of your computer. At that point, they change your password and hold your computer hostage, disabling your access. Hanging up on them will induce another four or five calls per day for weeks on end. If your password has been changed, you won’t be able to login to your computer and are in a tough position. A legit, local computer technician might be able to attempt to change your password back, though it’s not likely. If not, there are creative ways to get your data off your hard drive, reinstall Windows, then put your data back on the computer.  There are great tech companies out here; ask a friend who they use or look one up in a phone book.

So here’s what you need to know: First off, nobody from Microsoft will ever call you to say your computer is sending error messages – and, additional licensing is never needed to run a registered, legal copy of Windows. Secondly, every version of Windows has and always will have errors show up in its event log. No matter how convincing these people sound, it is a scam.

So what should you do? If anyone ever calls regarding a computer issue and wants access to your computer and/or a credit card, give them a piece of your mind and hang up. If you happen to let them into your computer in a momentary lapse in judgement, the quickest and easiest way to disconnect them is to hold the power button down on your computer for five to ten seconds until it shuts off. This is far from the recommended way to shut your computer down, but it’s quick and will work. Do not turn the computer back on until you have called your computer technician or someone you trust who is knowledgeable in the IT field, as a door will potentially remain open into your computer the next time it connects to the internet.

This is more of a public service announcement than the regular articles I’ll be writing twice a month for the Times, but an important one. In reading this, it’s clear I am describing a scam, but when someone on the phone sounds convincing, things can get confusing.

Theses scammers finally called me recently and my first words were, “Thank you, I’ve been waiting for your call.” I proceeded to ask the person on the other end of the phone how he’s able to sleep at night when his whole life is centered around deceiving people and hurting them. I detailed exactly how their scam works, what they do, and precisely what I thought of him and his coworkers. The actual words I used in that conversation, well, we can just call those “not fit for print.” I did it as payback for those I know who have been victimized.