The Norman Transcript

November 14, 2012

FTC exposes tech support telephone call scams


The Norman Transcript

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.”

The FTC charged that the operations - mostly based in India - target English-speaking consumers in the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and the U.K. Most of the scammers used telemarketing boiler rooms to call consumers. Others lured consumers by placing ads with Google which appeared when consumers searched for their computer company’s tech support telephone number.

According to the FTC, after getting the consumers on the phone, the telemarketers allegedly claimed they were affiliated with legitimate companies, including Dell, Microsoft, McAfee, and Norton, and told consumers they had detected malware that posed an imminent threat to their computers.

FTC papers filed with the court alleged that the scammers hoped to avoid detection by consumers and law enforcers by using virtual offices that were actually just mail-forwarding facilities, and by using 80 different domain names and 130 different phone numbers.

Some savvy computer users have actually started recording the scammers’ fake tech support phone calls and posting them to YouTube. Some of the videos are quite amusing; search YouTube for “tech support scam” and you see what I mean.

One of my favorites is at www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6-IzN46-L0. Enjoy, and be careful!

Dave Moore has been performing computer consulting, repairs, security and networking in Oklahoma since 1984. He also teaches computer safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be reached at 405-919-9901 or www.davemoorecomputers.com.

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