Never give your bank details out to unsolicited callers - over the phone or online
Our home phone rang at 8am last Saturday and I immediately thought there was something wrong. I mean those few who know our number wouldn’t be calling at that time if it wasn't urgent.
Thankfully it wasn’t anything to worry about, it was just a friendly, Indian-sounding gentleman, employed he told my wife Roseann, by Microsoft.
He was very kindly calling us to tell us that our computer was at risk because it was riddled with viruses and he was on hand to fix our problem.
He began by saying, “I’m from Microsoft and you’ve got a problem with your PC”. Roseann hung up straight away because she knew a company like Microsoft don’t make calls like this, so he was obviously masquerading as an employee of theirs, and this, if allowed, was the beginning of a scam phone call.
The Microsoft phone scam has been around since 2009. They begin by saying they are a security expert from Microsoft (they may use other well-known companies as well) and it has come to their attention that your computer has become infected with a virus and they can help fix it for you.
If you buy into their story, they may ask you to give them remote access to your computer. By doing this, they are looking to get hold of your personal data. They may also get you to download software which will fix your problem. But what you are downloading is actual software that will either (a) corrupt your computer and if you want it removed they will demand a payment from you – this is known as Ransomware or (b) allow them remote access to it where they can take over your webcam, access all your personal files, record what you are typing on your keyboard etc.
Or they may simply ask you for a once off payment for solving the virus problem on your PC. In some reported incidents, because they may have control of your computer, they open up a browser and ask you to enter your personal information, including your banking details to make your payment – NEVER DO THIS.
Please know that under no circumstances is any legitimate IT company ever going to make a call to you in this way. And the reason is simple - they couldn’t possibly know your computer is infected.
The people that are making these, kind of calls are scammers, actually they’re criminals. If they call you, hang up. Under no circumstances do you engage with them no matter how polite or plausible they may appear. Their motive is to get money and or your personal data from you, so have zero engagement with them.
While this scam is an old one, it appears con artists have been using it much more frequently in recent years. Microsoft themselves said they were contacted by 157,000 people last year, from 183 different companies who came in contact with scammers purporting to be from their tech support team. The number of people who have reported this scam has increased 24% from 2016.
So scammers are ramping up this type of attack and the reason why is they are having success with it. According to Microsoft, of the 157,000 people who reported the incident to them 15% ended up losing money to the scam.
With any scam like this, the criminals are preying on people’s insecurity and lack of tech knowledge and it’s easy to be a victim, particularly if you are an older person.
In the UK for example, the average age of people who are duped by cyber fraud is 62. So, it’s important to talk to elderly relatives or friends about this type of scam and tell them what it is and what to do (hang up) if they were ever to get this type of call.
The initial contact might seem very innocent via missed calls, emails, text messages stating you've won something, or some subscription has been cancelled or you are due a refund, are all just hooks looking for you to click on a link they provide, or return the call they made. If you do, you are making it easy for them to get access to your personal and bank account details allowing them to steal your money and your data.
If you weren’t expecting a call or an email or you are suspicious that one you have received isn’t genuine, do not click on any links or attachments.
Delete the email and move on with your life. Never give out personal information, and never give out bank details or credit card details, and under no circumstances do you ever allow a stranger guide you to a certain webpage or instruct you to change a setting on your PC or download software.
Microsoft’s advice to anyone who received a call like I did, but who did give out their personal information to a fake tech support team or paid for bogus services is to uninstall any applications run an antivirus scan, change all passwords and call your bank to see if you can reverse the money debited from your account.
Liam Croke is MD of Harmonics Financial Ltd,
based in Plassey. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.harmonics.ie