Netsafe, Microsoft issue new warning over cold callers

NetSafe cybersecurity programme manager Chris Hails

NetSafe and Microsoft NZ are today issuing a warning to home computer users to be alert to a new wave of cold-calling technicians targeting New Zealanders with phone calls about viruses on their computers.

Although the scam has been operating for almost four years, NetSafe’s Digital Project Manager Chris Hails said Fraud Awareness Week was a good opportunity to remind Kiwis of this popular scam.

The part government and Police-funded NetSafe received 50 reports from people around the country who had been called during May by a variety of companies, many of them claiming to be associated with Microsoft or Microsoft-certified, Mr Hails says.

“We know many Kiwis are wise to this scam and simply hang up. However, five individuals who contacted us in May believed the callers were genuine and ended up paying out between $120 and $470 after giving remote access to their computers and feeling concerned about what they were shown onscreen.”

Russell Craig, Microsoft NZ’s National Technology Officer, says that Microsoft has been making continual efforts over the past few years to alert people to this particular scam via public announcements and through its social media channels.

“To be absolutely clear, we do not receive reports of infected computers and then call people at home. If you do receive such a call, you can be sure it is not someone from Microsoft, and should hang up the phone immediately and report it to NetSafe.”

Mr Hails says NetSafe first received reports about overseas technical support companies cold calling people at home back in August 2010 and has also consistently warned PC users about the scam.
“Low cost VoIP calling services allow the companies to call thousands of people using automated diallers and many of the companies buy local New Zealand phone numbers to add an air of authenticity to their operation,” he says.

“Microsoft has worked hard to alert people to this scam,” said Hails. “We hope that along with their effort, Fraud Awareness Week will encourage more people to do the same and alert friends and family members to this issue so that such scams quickly become a thing of the past.

Hallmarks of the PC doctor scam:

  • Overseas caller states they are from Microsoft or a Microsoft certified technician.
  • Suggests the victim’s computer is infected and harming others online or that their ISP has identified their system as a problem.
  • Will get the computer owner to give the caller remote access using a genuine networking service or website like logmein123 or teamviewer.
  • They will use the ‘Event Viewer’ tool on the computer to highlight error messages which are supposedly signs of an infection.
  • The cold caller will offer to clean up the infection and/or install security software and provide an ongoing support service costing anywhere up to $500.

How to deal with the overseas cold callers

  • Hang up the phone - engaging with or taunting these companies can lead to you receiving many more calls at all times of the day or night. Some technicians have resorted to threats or abuse to get computer owners to give remote access.
  • If you do give access but become suspicious, disconnect the machine from the internet immediately. NetSafe has received some reports of these cold calling companies installing ransomware on the computer to ensure they get paid to unlock the PC.
  • If you have previously given remote access, it may pay to check what has been installed on your computer and be certain there is no way for the company to continue accessing your system and files. Consult a trusted local PC technician if unsure.
  • If you have paid money to these companies using a credit card, call your bank and discuss your options. If you sent funds via Western Union or another wire transfer service then the money is gone and cannot be recovered.
     

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