If "Windows Technical Support" calls, Hang Up!

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Have you received a call from "Windows Technical Support" telling you that your computer has a virus or malware? Here's the story on this scam that could be coming to your phone, and what you should do about it.

The Call from "Windows Support"

Indian call center"Hello, This is John from Windows Support. I'm calling because we can see that your computer is throwing viruses and errors on the Internet." 

This is the opening of the call or, if you don't answer, the message on your voicemail with a number for you to call back.  The caller ID shows it to be a company in the US.

None of this is true.

  • The call is NOT from Microsoft or any official "Windows Support" team. You'll never get a call out of the blue from these organizations about your computer.
  • No one "can see your computer throwing viruses and errors on the Internet." Even if they could, they wouldn't know it was yours, and they wouldn't know your name or phone number.
  • They're not in the US. They are in Asia at a call center run by criminals. And his name is definitely not John.

What they want, and how they will try to get it

What they want is two things:
(1) they want you to let them get inside your computer so that they can get your private information, like passwords and banking information, and so that they can actually put malware onto your computer;
(2) they want you to pay them between $200 and $500 to "fix the problems" (including the problems they will cause). If you let them into your computer, they may lock it until you pay them. If you refuse to pay them once you've let them inside, they may disable your PC permanently.

To get you to let them in, they will try to scare you about "all the errors, worse than a virus! They're online infections!" by showing you entries in the Event Viewer. They're counting on you not being familiar with the Event Viewer, and thinking that "lots of entries" means "lots of problems." It doesn't -- below is a screen shot of the Event Viewer of a normal PC (mine). All it's showing is when things started and stopped, and the occasional error or warning usually means something wasn't ready when it was called. Every Windows PC keeps these log notations of events.

Windows Event Viewer

The Event Viewer from my Windows PC. None of these entries mean there is any kind of problem. They are simply log entries of past events.

But if they can convince you, then they will have you go to their website and run a program that lets them get into your computer. If you ever let them get this far by actually running the program, you've given them the keys to everything.

Don't even think about it! If you think you really might have a problem, call your local computer store for help. Don't trust some anonymous Indian who calls you on the phone.

How to make them go away.

The best and easiest way to make this crooks leave you alone is to convince them quickly that they will get nothing from you.

"I don't have a computer." "My computer is not working, so I can't turn it on." "I don't have an Internet connection."  If you can tell them any of these sentences convincingly, they will hang up (often abruptly) because they're not going to make any money from you.

If you've already let them know you have a computer, you could tell them "I'll have my son look into it. He's a computer professional and he takes care of my computer for me.  Thank you for calling -- goodbye." You could tell them "I have to leave for an appointment right now, so I don't have time. Goodbye. " Or you could be more to the point: "Oh, I was just reading about this 'Windows support' scam. Sorry, I'm not going to be your victim today." Then just hang up.

The important thing is to let them know that there will not be success for them here, and then get off the phone before they start to argue with you. And if they call back right back, just don't answer.

Don't give them ANY information.

It's likely that the only thing they know when they call you is the phone number they dialed, so don't give them any other real information. We're nice people and don't like to be rude, and con artists on the phone count on that, but "Betty Crocker" or "Beetle Bailey" or any name that springs to mind can always be given to someone you don't want to reveal things to.

Since these scammers looking for people with Windows PCs, it's tempting to say "I use a Mac," "I use a Chromebook," or "I use a tablet," because they will hang up. But some day there may be scammers after Macs or Chromebooks. Why tell them anything other than "no" in such a firm way that they know they can't convince you?

A Final Note About "Scareware"

This scam is one of those known as "scareware," in which the scammer tries to scare you into giving them what they want before you have a chance to stop and think about it.

Other kinds of scareware are pop-up notices on a website telling you that your computer is infected, a notice that you need to download a "recommended" update of some sort, or an email telling you that your bank account or PayPal has been compromised.

A common scareware is a pop-up on a website offering a "free scan" to see if you have "registry errors" that are making your computer run slowly. You might even see an ad for "Finally Fast" or "MyCleanPC" or something similar on TV. Of course, the "free scan" finds dozens of errors, and the scan actually installs a scareware program that will slow down your PC and keep popping up to warn you until you pay to have it removed.  They're ALL scams.

Don't be scared by them. Nothing is going to happen.

More Information

The Story of How Some Scammers Got Caught in 2012 - Ars Technica

A Support Scammer Calls Ars Technica - Ars Technica

A neverending story: PC users lose another $120M to tech support scams - Ars Technica

The AMMYY Scam: Microsoft Phone Support Scam, and How to Remove the Spyware - Malwaretips.com