Tuesday, 12 April 2011

A quick warning re: scam

Some months ago my mother was scammed over the phone. She sort-of knew she'd been scammed immediately, and was immediately repentant, and we stopped her credit card and sorted it all out. It upset me quite a lot at the time for two reasons: 1) I'm not ready for my parents to need protection from scammers other than their own common sense; 2) I wasn't quite sure at first what the scammers were up to. I just had a phonecall from the same people, who have phoned back quite a lot since then, and amused myself by keeping them on the phone for as long as possible, as an outlet for my annoyed feelings. I thought I'd post about this quickly just in case anyone who reads this blog finds themselves, like me, in the position of default IT support for their parents, and would like to warn them to be cautious.

The caller says that they're from "Windows Service Department" or something similar. They do their best to make you think that they're from Microsoft and are official Windows people without actually stating it. They say they have a report indicating that there are problems with your computer, and that it may be running slowly. (This is as far as they got today because I asked them why they were spying on my computer and they hung up.) From what happened with my mother, it seems that when you express concern they tell you to go to your computer, and talk you through running a diagnostic on it. This is where I was really worried at first because my mother couldn't describe to me quite what had happened, but it seems that what they tell you to do is a genuine inbuilt Windows diagnostic which lists all the issues your computer has had. They're relying on the almost certainty that your computer has at some point returned an error message, or even crashed. You tell them that there are error reports, and they persuade you to pay them money for software which is supposed to make it all OK.

I would never have expected my mother to fall for this. I would have expected her to stop at the point where they asked for money. When she told me about it I was really concerned that they might have already got spyware on her computer somehow before they called, but in fact it's just an aggressive selling technique, and they count on most of the people they call having a Windows computer. I uninstalled what they had got her to put on, and did some really long and thorough virus checks, so I hope her computer's OK now. At least she didn't give them remote access.

Links to other people being scammed:
If you read the comments to the middle article you'll see that my mother is far from being alone in being caught out. Worse than the sixty quid (which she did get back by telling the credit card people) was that she felt really stupid and worried about whether she's going doolally. Cue me spending lots of time googling the symptons of early onset dementia and worrying about her. It was all very unpleasant.

On the other hand if you do get a phonecall from them, here is an opportunity to be really rude to someone without feeling even a glimmer of guilt afterwards. So it's not all bad. I actually quite like it when they call now.

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