OK, this is not related to economics, but a personal and maybe even “public service” post.
If you have ever had a person with an Indian accent make an unsolicited call to your house and tell you that:
(1) they are from “Microsoft Technical Support” or “Windows Technical Support” or the “technical department of Windows operating system” (!) or something like this, and that you have viruses or “errors” on your computer, orthen you are dealing with scammers and criminals! Hand up the phone immediately and do not engage with them!
(2) that your licence or registration for Windows is expired or invalid and that you need to renew it through them,
Now please note I am not trying to draw unfair attention to the ethnicity of these scammers, but the fact remains that they seem to nearly always have Indian or subcontinental accents, and a lot of the actual criminal investigations of these scams indicate that they are based in India.
There are plenty of video recordings of these scams on YouTube. There is one interesting one below where they rang Jerome Segura, a senior security researcher at anti-malware company Malwarebytes! He played along with them in their scam of type (1) above, and shows in this video what these criminals will do to your computer if you let them get access to it (fortunately, he was using a Virtual Windows machine, so no serious damage was done).
Some of these scammers get incredibly rude when they get caught out as you can see in the next video where they ring someone with an Apple Macintosh. (Warning: there is very bad and extremely offensive language at the end of this video from the scammer!!)
Microsoft has a good warning on the whole scam here:
Today I had 5 calls with these persistent bastards trying to scam me.
Fortunately, I did not fall for it at all, and knew it was scam within 20 seconds of hearing them start talking. I have heard of the scam before, and even had similar calls before. I normally just listen for 30 seconds and hang up.
Today, however, I was curious to see how these scams operate. First, a woman calling herself “Eleanor” (a fake name certainly – like all the names they gave!) said she was from “Windows Technical Support” department, but when I asked her directly whether she worked for Microsoft Corporation she dodged the question.
Then she told me that my version of Windows had expired or had invalid licences and that they needed to help me renew them.
Next I was handed on to a man called “Sam.” He directed me to the “run” box on Windows and asked me to type in “msconfig” and then when the “system configuration” box came up, he made me click on “services” and made me count the number of “stopped” services. I did not bother counting but let them stay on hold while I googled this particular scam on the internet and some minutes later gave the number “42” (which might have been roughly half the number).
At that point, there was a cry of “My god!” from “Sam,” who proceeded to inform me that this was very bad news indeed. He then said that the “stopped” services are evidence that my Windows licence had expired and a “certified Windows technician” would help me solve the problem and restart the services. But all of this was lies and fraud.
Next they tried to make me go to a site that would have allowed them remote access to my computer. I will not give you the site name, since this is probably irresponsible, and I did not actually go to the site but googled it, which quickly confirmed that it was part of these scams.
At this point, once they were urging me to download the site, I stalled and finally had enough, and asked the person point blank: “So are your mother and father aware that you are a liar and criminal and involved in fraud?” The person immediately hung up.
But, lo and behold, within minutes I get a call back from “Eleanor” asking me “what happened?”
I replied directly – becoming increasingly astonished by their persistence – that she had directed me to someone who was telling me lies.
Would she please confirm, I asked, whether she worked for Microsoft? After minutes of lame evasion, I finally got an answer that their “company” was not Microsoft, and was given the name of some fake company (in one of the later calls I got a completely different fake company name from another person), but even despite my continued scepticism, they continued to push the scam in the course of which they seem to have genuinely lost the connection twice, but recalled me within minutes.
I was handed over again to another man whose name was spoken quickly and inaudibly (I think it was “Mike”) who also tried to convince me to open this malicious site. By this time, I was asking: “so how much will this cost me?” At this, they at last started to admit that I would be charged some fee for this fraudulent “service.”
Then I got disconnected again and after they re-dialled me, I was finally told it was cost me about $200. “That’s a lot of money,” I said. Why, I continued, don’t I just take it to my local IT shop?
At this point, they became very pushy, and said I could not get it fixed there, and then after trying to get me to give them remote access to my computer yet again (unsuccessfully!), I ended the nonsense by finally telling them I was totally aware it was a scam from the beginning and used some bad language myself to make the message clear. After that, no more phone calls!
I read on the internet that some very tech savvy people can use a Windows Virtual machine to get the scammers’ email, PayPal accounts and even IP addresses for police and proper law enforcement authorities, but I am not really confident enough to do this myself.
But what interests me is this:
(1) how do these people get your phone number?Actually, (2) really does interest me, because I have wasted a great deal of time listening to these scamming videos on YouTube, and given the brazen and persistent behaviour of some of the scammers involved I started to wonder if they themselves know they work for criminals.
(2) do all the Indian people you speak to on the phone always know they are involved in these scams? The initial people whom you speak to seem to be just reading from scripts and perhaps not even be very computer literate. Do the criminals employ people who do not really know they are working for criminals?
(3) I read that the scammers use voice over Internet protocols (VoIP) technology that hides their identity. So there is no way you can even get their actual phone number?
(4) it was very difficult for me to get these people to explicitly and fraudulently say they work for Microsoft, even though that was what their initial statement implies. When pressed repeatedly, they seem to give fake company names.
Some of the videos are pretty funny. Take this one below of an Australian responding to one of these scams (Warning: more bad language at the end!).
So beware and do not fail victim to these scams!
Arthur, Charles. 2010. “Virus phone scam being run from call centres in India,” The Guardian, 19 July
Solon, Olivia. 2013. “What happens if you play along with a Microsoft ‘tech support’ scam?,” Wired, 11 April 13