October 2012: Joint action between three international regulators has thwarted a massive global phone scam, with US authorities winning court orders to close down and freeze funds of imposters posing as Microsoft employees offering to fix PC viruses.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA), the US Federal Trade Commission and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission collaborated to share key intelligence about the operations of the Microsoft imposters.
This scam was one of the most commonly reported scams in 2011, with computer hacking scams contributing more than 23 per cent to the total scam reports to the ACCC.
SCAMwatch urges you to remain alert – this type of scam continues to do the rounds, with scammers impersonating other well known and trusted companies or government agencies to slip under your radar.
If you receive a call out of the blue from a stranger requesting access to your computer, money or your personal details, just hang up.
How these scams work
You receive a call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from (or have a relationship with) Windows or Microsoft and that they have detected a virus on your computer.
To confirm the diagnosis, the caller asks you to open Windows Event Viewer on your machine to check if it is infected. Several error messages are listed and this reinforces their claims, even though errors are common and usually harmless. The caller tells you that these are of significant concern and offers to refer you to a ‘technician’ who could fix the problem—for a fee.
At this point, you’re offered a number of solutions that seem to make perfect sense. Depending on the intent of the particular scammer involved, the ‘technician’ might:
Install an antivirus program on your computer—typically the kind that you can download for free from reputable companies—and charge up to $250 for the service.
Ask for your credit card details but install nothing. Your details might then be sold to other parties or used for fraudulent purposes.
Install malware on your computer—this enables your computer to be controlled remotely for other illegal and harmful activities.
Access and steal personal and financial details from your computer.
Scammers have also been known to make follow-up calls to people who initially fell victim to the scam. In these calls the scammer falsely claims to be from a foreign government, foreign law enforcement body, or from your bank, and offers to recover the money that you initially lost— in return for a fee.
Suspect: Don’t accept anything at face value—if it sounds unlikely or too good to be true, it probably is.
Think: Recognise the signs—if you’re being pressured to act, disclose personal details or send money to a stranger, it’s almost certainly a scam. For example, Microsoft never makes unsolicited phone calls about its products.
Report: Act quickly—tell SCAMwatch and stop scammers in their tracks.
Ignore: Never respond. Just hang up, or delete the SMS or email after reporting.
You can report scams to the ACCC via the SCAMwatch report a scam page or by calling 1300 795 995.
The ACCC has previously issued alerts on the cold calling computer virus scam: