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November 14, 2012

FTC exposes tech support telephone call scams

NORMAN — If someone called you on the phone, said they were from the “Windows Technical Department” and claimed they needed to remotely repair your computer because it had been hacked, would you believe them?

Numerous customers have been telling me stories similar to this for about a week now, but it seems scams like this have been around for a while. I had heard of them, but now I know people who have actually experienced them. Two of the scammers left a call-back number of 201-285-5200. This number leads to a bogus computer repair website called TechePC.com, which, despite appearances and area codes, has its roots in West Bengal, India.

The calls go something like this: the Windows Technical Department’s “Central Server” has been receiving error warnings from your computer, indicating that your computer is in danger of crashing or being hacked. The helpful tech support guy, speaking with a heavy foreign accent and a sense of great urgency, then asks you to “test” your computer by pressing certain key combinations on your keyboard. A confusing-looking window called “Event Viewer” opens, filled with technical gobbledygook, “proving” your computer has been hacked. He further explains that the “Central Server” gave him your phone number, so he could call and help you out of this terrible situation.

As the call progresses, you are pressured to visit a certain website and install something that will allow remote control of your computer, so that repairs can be effected. You are also asked to provide a credit card number to pay for services rendered. Victims of this scam end up losing between $50-500.

Fortunately, the Federal Trade Commission started taking scammers like this to court last month, but new scams spring up every day, so it’s an ongoing crackdown. “The FTC has been aggressive - and successful - in its pursuit of tech support scams,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, “and the tech support scam artists we are talking about today have taken scareware to a whole other level of virtual mayhem.”

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