Cold Call: Computer Problem Scams

We all get cold calls, whether its telling us we've won a luxury family holiday to Florida or to try and sell us mobile phones or insurance, but there's a new cold call circulating - and its a scam.

WARNING: NTS Computing recommend you NEVER agree, sign up, or give your credit / debit card, financial details or passwords / PIN numbers to anyone who has initiated a cold call, even if you know the company is reputable.  Always ask for any offer or sales pitch in writing.  This will give you time to research the company and determine if it is genuine.

You can listen to some actual call recordings made by us by clicking here.

What are they selling? ...

It's more a question of what are they trying to trick you into?

They appear to be using a number of different stories but they all try to extort money from you in the end.

From our customer reports and other user groups / forums and industry sources, these "companies" are trying to sell either an annual remote service agreement or charge a fee for fixing problems on your computer remotely. In most cases these "problems" are either false or exaggerated.  Our customers have claimed costs of around £69.99, while some industry sources claim £185 or more.

What methods do they use?

There are a number of different methods the call centres use.  There are also several different "companies" and it's not clear if they are all run by the same scammers or if they are "copy cat" scams.  They all use different, very convincing methods to extort money from you.

The current methods are variations based on the following examples:

  • Claim to be authorised by Microsoft (amongst other big known names) to speak on their behalf about an error report your computer has generated and submitted.  You may have seen the error reports that Windows generates and even submitted them.  They play on your familiarity with this, and thus you feel somewhat more comfortable that it is a genuine call. Whilst these error reports are genuine, Microsoft do not know who your are or have any contact details, nor do they pass these details onto third parties and authorise them to contact you on their behalf.
  • Claim your computer has been generating lots of errors which they have detected, and talk you through a simple step, usually by looking in the event log to confirm if your machine has lots of errors.  The Windows event log contains a report of various events, as windows, programs and services are opened, used and closed.  This log will by the very nature of Windows and your usage contain warnings and errors.  Mostly these warnings and errors are completely benign, and a trained engineer can determine which are genuine problems that need attention.  The caller will direct you to open this page and tell them how many errors and warnings there are.  This log can be incredibly big depending on how long you have had the PC and how often you use it.  Numbers can range from hundreds to thousands.  When you report the number to the caller, they will tell you that the PC will imminently stop working unless they sort these problems out.
  • Claim that your IP address (an address that uniquely identifies your computer on the internet) has been trapped as sending out lots of spam or virus related traffic and they need to check to see if you are infected.  They could ask you to check for the "prefetch virus" by getting you to click on Start, then Run, and then type in "Prefetch Virus".  This will open up the Windows Prefetch folder and the virus element of the command is ignored.  The Prefetch folder is a genuine folder which doesn't normally contain any viruses.  Once you have confirmed to the caller that this window has opened, they claim you are infected and take the scam to the next step.  They may direct you to a website to "check your PC".  This website may download fake software which is often malicious in its own right, which reports fabricated problems, or the website itself reports fabricated problems with your PC.

Once the caller falsely confirms you have a problem on your PC, they will attempt to charge you a fee for fixing these fabricated problems - sometimes with a one-time charge, and sometimes an annual remote assistance subscription fee.  They may also try to connect to your computer remotely to fix these problems.  They will often do this by getting you to go to www.logmein123.com which is powered by LogMeIn.  This is a legitimate service but these companies are misusing it.

What can I do?

Firstly, NEVER agree, sign up, or give your credit / debit card or any financial details to anyone who has initiated a cold call, even if you know the company is reputable.  Always ask for any offer or sales pitch in writing.  This will give you time to research the company and determine if it is genuine.

If you have already fallen victim to this type of scam, then the usual safety precautions should be followed:

  • Stop running any software you have been asked to run by the caller.
  • Perform a full virus scan of your computer, using a reputable antivirus software product and ensure it is up to date with the latest definitions before doing so.
  • If you have used a password to sign up or create an account with them, which you use elsewhere, you will need to ensure you change these other passwords.
  • Contact your credit / debit card company for advice about a possible refund for a fraudulent service and seek further guidance regarding your card details and account.
  • If in doubt, contact NTS Computing on 01373 302901 to arrange a check of your computer to ensure there is no malicious software / viruses or backdoors for these "companies" to gain access to your PC.  This will be charged at our normal rates, which can be found on our service charges page.

Further Reading ...

Simply type the name of the "company" who has called you into your favourite search engine.  This should bring up results for you to base your research on.  However, below are a list of sources which we have used in the creation of this page:

Digital Toast
http://www.digitaltoast.co.uk/supportonclick-systemrecure-scam

Money Saving Expert
http://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/showthread.php?p=31437403

This is Wiltshire
http://www.thisiswiltshire.co.uk/news/headlines/8116457... (condensed)

PC Pro
http://www.pcpro.co.uk/news/security/356833/pensioner-tar... (condensed)

Other related services: The Scam: Recorded Calls | Internet Security | Virus Removal