NetSafe

Can I trust cold calling PC technical support companies?

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Cold calling PC doctors Event Viewer screenshot

Since August 2010 and the launch of The orb website, NetSafe has received thousands of reports from across New Zealand of people being cold called by ‘Microsoft’ or Microsoft qualified technical support staff wanting to help you with a slow or infected computer.

Due to the persistent – and sometimes aggressive – nature of the people calling and the various angles being used to persuade you to give them remote access, we consider these companies to be operating a widespread scam.

They have been active in NZ, Australia and the UK and the Ministry of Consumer Affairs and local media have made great efforts to alert people about the tactics used.

You can read the reports on the Scamwatch website (www.consumeraffairs.govt.nz/scam-news/scam-alert-25 and http://www.consumeraffairs.govt.nz/scam-news/scam-alert-34)  and watch the recent episode of TVNZ’s Fair Go that brought almost 500 reports through to us after the show.

Hallmarks of the computer scam:

We are not 100% certain what they do if you give them remote computer access but reports to us have suggested:

  • They are using the Event Viewer tool to suggest wrongly that your computer is infected or needs cleaning to speed up – and then trying to sell you software or a support contract for anywhere up to $250
  • Some of the software they are installing is actually available for free – you can use our guide to selecting anti-virus and anti-spyware security software
  • They are watching people pay via PayPal or other online money transfer services and may be able to record your credit card and personal details for identity fraud or theft
  • They may be installing rogue software like Trojans or keyloggers to record your computer use and gain your login information for online banking, auction sites and more

You can read more about the scam and comments from others receiving calls on our blog:

What to do if you have been affected by the scam

If you have been called by one of these companies:

  • Please report this through The orb website so we can gather as much information from you as possible – we have passed over 25 names to NZ Police at present
  • Please try and get a company name and local telephone number – we pass this on to the police so they can get these numbers disconnected – and then hang up
  • Tell your friends, work colleagues and family members so more people are aware of their tactics
  • If you need help speeding up your PC then check out this article from the real Microsoft: 5 ways to speed up your PC
  • Plus find out how to use Event Viewer and understand the messages shown – these may be jargon filled warnings but can be easily deciphered

If you gave the scammers remote access or paid them money

If you used a service like TeamViewer or logmein123.com and gave the scammers remote access to your computer it may have been compromised. In these cases we are advising you do 3 things to protect your information and your computer:

  1. Run a full security scan to see if there is any new malware on the computer. If you don’t currently have an updated security suite or you feel your software may have been uninstalled or compromised then consider running an online scan from a reputable computer security company
  2. Change ALL your passwords from a DIFFERENT computer.  That is banking passwords, social networking sites like Facebook , email passwords, any trading accounts like TradeMe, anything else like TAB, etc.  This is just to be sure that the scammers cannot use your accounts.
  3. It is advisable to notify your bank if you use online banking as they may have been able to access bank details or credit card account. Keep an eye on your accounts and check statements for rogue purchases over the coming months
  4. If you are still concerned that something may have been loaded onto your computer while they had control, or via the application they got you to download, then disconnect the computer from the internet and do not log back on until you have had your hard drive  re-formated and your operating system re-installed.  This requires some specialist technical skill and you may need to seek the advice of a computer hardware specialist – remember to backup any essential files before doing this.

Sometimes the banks have been helpful in reversing charges on credit cards if you notify them very soon after the transaction.

Help protect others

The Ministry of Consumer Affairs runs the Scamwatch website as an educational tool for consumers to learn about the types of scams that are around, so people can know the sort of tactics scammers use and be able to spot the signs of a scam (just as you did).

You can also help raise the awareness of your friends and contacts by humorously “scamming” them from the Scam Machine (www.scammachine.org.nz), an application built by NetSafe to help people understand different scam hooks.

2 Comments

  1. Diana Hall says:

    I usually get 2 to 3 scam emails per day. What email address should I forward them to to make sure they are being looked into.

    • Chris Hails says:

      Hi Diana, if the scam is of a spam nature (unsolicited and from a company based in NZ) then you can report to the Department of Internal Affairs team. You can find their details and other options for reporting scams and online activities you are unsure about at http://www.theorb.org.nz

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