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PSA: The Computer Maintenance Department Scam Calls

PSA: The Computer Maintenance Department Scam Calls

Have you been getting those calls from people working in a call center from what sounds like India? You know, those people who claim to be from either the “Computer Maintenance Department” or the “Windows Technical Team” who then instruct you to go to your computer? Tell the select minority of people who would fall for it that these calls are a scam. We here at ZeroPaid did some digging about these calls in a public service effort.

I consider myself to be reasonably savvy when it comes to telemarketers. Whenever they come calling trying to sell me something, I ask them to put me on a do-not-call list. Asking to be put on a do-not-call list is substantially better than simply hanging up on a telemarketer because merely hanging up is technically an invitation to call back later. Most telemarketers have a system in place because it’s the law and it’s generally good practice.

After asking numerous telemarketers to be put on a do-not-call list myself, it seems I have narrowed down the number of telemarketers down to a very select few. Those were the automated calls that ask you to press a number to claim a prize (never do this unless you want to be charged an unknown amount of money), the occasional survey calls and one particularly annoying computer related call.

The computer related one comes at around twice a month. The telemarketer in question tells me that he is calling in regards to my computer. After that, he typically instructs me to go to my computer. This is where I get my chance to stop him in his tracks. It took a few attempts, with different marketers, but I managed to obtain two different names from them. They claim to be either from the “Computer Maintenance Department” or the “Windows Technical Team”. This alone should be enough to set internal alarms off that this is not a legitimate call.

Every time, these people would also tell me that my computer could be infected with harmful viruses and that they are calling to fix the problem. Usually, by this time, I tell them that I want to be put on a do-not-call list. Every time I’ve requested this, the telemarketer hangs up only to call back weeks later. To me, if these telemarketers are not even operating a do-not-call list, then that’s a big warning sign that this is not legitimate.

So, armed with who this is, I proceed to exercise my Google-fu to see what these people are all about. Turns out, this scam has been around for years. A user known as lowlanda on a Whirlpool forum posted in 2010 that a similar call was received asking to run some form of uncomprehendable command. In a British forum, there was a similar discussion also in 2010 about this kind of scam. Apparently, one user reported being asked to download a logmein program and was asked to pay £55 to keep Windows activated after obtaining personal information. Similar stories can be found on whocallsme as well.

It turns out, this scam was so bad in the UK, police raided several websites associated with this scam. From the Guardian:

The Metropolitan police e-crime unit acted in April to take such sites down. Among those shut was supportonclick.com, registered to Pecon Software, a firm based in Kolkata. The company has now opened another support website, called onlinepccare.com, which is the subject of numerous online complaints about cold calling, “bullying”, and claims that the caller is from Windows PC care.

One person recorded his adventure with this kind of scam and posted it to YouTube:

There’s plenty more information about this scam on digitaltoast. While the post dates clear back to 2009, the comments section points out that this scam is still going on to this day.

Microsoft’s Comment

Interested that these scammers say that they are from Microsoft, we actually contacted Microsoft about this. We asked what to look for when it comes to figuring out whether or not the phone call is indeed from Microsoft or not. A Microsoft spokesperson said, “Our advice is simple; treat callers as you would treat strangers in the street ” do not disclose personal or sensitive information to anyone you do not know.”

“Unfortunately this is not the first scam of its kind,” the Microsoft spokesperson told ZeroPaid, “and it’s unlikely to be the last. The best way to avoid becoming a victim is by being aware of the threat. Consumers should also ensure the copy of Windows they are running is genuine and fully up to date, while ensuring they have installed legitimate software will guard against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software.”

CRTC’s Response and Information on Reporting This Scam

With an official statement from Microsoft saying that this is a scam, ZeroPaid decided to contact the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) to ask what options consumers have in terms of reporting such fraudulent phone calls; specifically, what can people do to issue a complaint about this kind of phone scam given that this scam is not compliant with the do-not-call registry.

“First,” the CRTC told ZeroPaid, “this is a scammer calling you, not a telemarketer. For scams/fraud, I would recommend contacting the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre (Phonebusters).”

The CRTC forwarded us some links about reporting this scam and how this scam has really taken off in Canada in recent months. One link was to a press release by the RCMP detailing the scam:

OTTAWA – September 29, 2011 – The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and their partners at the Canadian Anti Fraud Centre (CAFC) are warning that if someone calls you claiming to be able to protect your computer from viruses, your best bet is to just hang up the phone. Don’t give the caller your computer access codes and don’t provide your credit card information.

The virus scam has grown to epidemic proportions in Canada, now accounting for between 70 and 80 per cent of frauds reported daily to the CAFC. “We began noticing virus scam calls in March 2010. Since then, they’ve become an increasing proportion of our calls. Now, they’re the scam we deal with most often,” said RCMP Sgt. Paul Proulx of the CAFC.

This dramatic increase means the scam is working ” more and more Canadians are being targeted by the virus scam. Proulx warns, “If a scammer is able to log on to your computer then he has access to all the personal information you have stored there, including your banking information.”

Here’s a typical scenario: a caller, often claiming to work for Microsoft or another reputable software company, will cold-call you and ask if your computer is running slowly or not working as it should. He will then offer to repair your computer via internet access, which can involve either software installation or the caller gaining remote control of your computer after you’ve granted him access. Payment for the software or the repair service is handled via your credit card with charges typically ranging from $35 to $470 per call.

Allowing a third party to download software or remotely access your computer carries a number of serious risks. Malicious software can be installed to capture sensitive data such as your online banking user names and passwords, bank account information and your personal identity information. All of this information can be used in subsequent frauds that empty your bank accounts and charge your credit cards. Your computer can also be converted to a bot-net, which means criminals can use it without your knowledge or participation. It can then be used to spam other people, spread viruses to your friends or overload computer networks. Getting your credit card information is the second important part of the virus scam. Once a criminal has that information it can be used to make purchases without your consent.

Canadians should be aware that not all virus scams are conducted over the phone. Many CAFC callers report being scammed after responding to internet pop-up ads for anti-virus software.

Sgt. Proulx offers this simple advice: “If you’re really worried about viruses on your computer, be pro-active and use anti-virus software that you’ve acquired from reputable sources and keep it up to date. If someone calls you out of the blue offering to provide this kind of help, it’s probably a scam. Remember, it’s not rude to hang up on someone who’s trying to steal your money and information.”

“When it comes to cyber security, we all have a role to play,” said Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. “Canada’s Cyber Security Strategy is the Government’s plan to help secure Canada’s vital cyber systems and help Canadians protect themselves, their families and their personal information online.”

Please visit the Canadian Anti Fraud Centre’s new website for the latest on emerging fraud trends, advice on protecting yourself and victim’s guides that will help you recover from fraud loss: www.antifraudcentre.ca. For more information on the Government of Canada’s Cyber Security Strategy: www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cyber

Fraud: Recognize It, Report It, Stop It.

A second link the CRTC sent us was to a page detailing how you can report a scam call:

If you have not lost any money and have not provided personal or financial information (relating to a fraud or scam), and you simply want to inform the appropriate organizations, report it to the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre by calling 1-888-495-8501

If you received a fraudulent e-mail soliciting personal or financial information (phishing scam), you should also advise the financial institution or other agency whose name was used.

If you are a victim of fraud or if you unwittingly provided personal or financial information (identity fraud), follow the steps in our Victim Assistance Guide.

If you are a victim of fraud and it is not related to identity fraud, contact the police service of jurisdiction in your area.

Always report fraud to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at [email protected] or by dialing 1-888-495-8501 or on-line by visiting the CAFC website.

The third link the CRTC sent us was to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center which contains a lot of information about how you can report scams over the phone and about recent phone scams which includes this particular one.

“If, however,” the CRTC told ZeroPaid, “a legitimate telemarketer calls you and breaks the DNCL rules ” you can make a complaint either online or by phone. To file a complaint you need:

1. Your phone number (where the call was received)
2. The name or phone number of the telemarketer
3. The date you received the call

To make a complaint online go to:

lnnte-dncl.gc.ca

Note that the phone scam discussed is not a legitimate telemarketer, so if you get the computer viruses phone scam, this is best directed at the Canadian Anti-fraud Center and the RCMP.

We here at ZeroPaid hope that this is valuable and informative information on this scam and how you can report it. Feel free to also discuss this scam or other phone scams in the comment section below. Note that the above information on reporting this scam is directed at Canadians. If you do not live in Canada or the UK and receive these calls, please feel free to let us know in the comments section below as we are only aware of this scam being active in the UK and in Canada.

Have a tip? Want to contact the author? You can do so by sending a PM via the forums or via e-mail at [email protected].

Drew Wilson
Drew Wilson is perhaps one of the more well-known file-sharing and technology news writers around. A journalist in the field since 2005, his work has had semi-regular appearances on social news websites and even occasional appearances on major news outlets as well. Drew founded freezenet.ca and still contributes to ZeroPaid. Twitter | Google Plus
dradamh
dradamh

Just got this call from 642-796-6136. Accent was from India. They hung up when I asked what it was for.

Oniken
Oniken

I received a call from them in Spain. It seems they are not calling only english speaking countries.

patience is a virtue
patience is a virtue

I've gotten a number of these calls here in nova scotia. when they ask me to go to my computer I ask them to hold while I supposedly go and turn it on. after some time passes I go hang up the phone. my hope is they will dislike being on hold for so long and not call back. hasn't worked yet but i'm patient.

Cagey Sea
Cagey Sea

I just got off the phone with these losers. They had my name and email address. Both of which I denied were correct, but they were correct. I did not check the ip address they gave me as being mine. They claimed that my Windows license was expired and that my computer would crash in less than an hour. At the end of the conversation the Indian caller said that I was full of bull sh*t and he hung up on me. Maybe I got his goat a little? I did have a good laugh about it.

LinneaSommer
LinneaSommer

I got one of these calls today, and apparently one yesterday. They've somehow gotten my cell # (they never call on my landline). They didn't even know my name, so that was a tipoff.  I don't think the caller gave his name, either, so they're getting savvier. I said to them, "What 'Computer Maintenance Department'?." When they said, "For your home computer," I hung up. Seriously, how dumb do they think people are?? And the number doesn't show up on my cell phone, just "1004," so I don't know if it's worth trying to report it. They've called me at least four times in the last month. 

Go Scam Yourself
Go Scam Yourself

Thanks for your depth of info on this scam, Drew. The calls from "Windows maintenance department" have recently escalated for us here in Vancouver, Canada to a few times a week. We had a call yesterday before 8am in the morning which is (not surprisingly) rude and not very businesslike. "Stephen" or "Ernie" seem to call the most and both have thick Indian accents. Requests to be taken off of their calling lists are ignored even if we say we don't have/use a Microsoft Windows computer. They hang up on us and call back. They called back again this afternoon and I've really had more than enough! I'll try your advice to just let the call go to voice mail and not answer it. Thanks again for your great article on this terrible scam!

Rose_of_Sharon
Rose_of_Sharon

I just had someone call me with exactly this, I knew it was a scam and when I started asking them questions, like what company they are with and more info they hung up on me. I am in the U.S. who can I report this to?


Freddy McScam
Freddy McScam

I am in the UK and get these calls at least 4 times a week. They are now coming in at weekends. I have been involved in the Software Industry for 30 years so I think I know what I am doing. Recently the calls have changed slightly. They now have two lines of staff. The cold caller who gets you to open Event Viewer and once he/she shows you that there are items in the event log (and there always is), they then pass you to their more tech person who will try to get you to download the desktop control software. I have two networks in my office. One which is Internet facing, the other is purely internal. I always use my internal network so as to find out what they are trying to do without exposing myself to any form of attack. I do know where they take you (have clients who have fell for the trick) but my main concern is how we get the authorities involved to stop this. The frightening thing is how aggressive some of them can get. The language they are able to use is rather enlightening.  I always ask for their own contact number, in case the call drops, as I really desperate for them to solve this issue on my machine and their location. The number never fits in with the address. I then always ask what the weather is like where they are. Today I asked why they dropped the call at the weekend as I do want to sort this. The guy said he had never called me before. I assume there are a number of organisations involved in this scam. They are also now using 'English' names. Today we had 'Ray Smith". Yeah right.

 

Up to you how you handle these calls. I like to string them along as  feel at least they are not scamming who is more inclined to get caught. Simplest way is to put the phone down but this means they are free to dial someone else. Also never get wound up by them. Let them get angry with you. Far funnier.

pr
pr

Today, 22 Nov, Stockholm. 1005 a.m. Call from "00970971-514". 

Me: "Hello" Followed by a few seconds of electronic noise - the call was being made through VOIP, I'd imagine.

It (Indian accent):: "Good morning I am calling from the technical maintenance department"

Me: "Yes?"

It: "It is about your windows computer"

Me: " **** off you I***** B******! You're trying to scam me. Don't call this number again"

 

We have no windows powered machines in this house, thus I was very happy to have spotted what was going on from the outset! However, if anyone can assist with tracing the phone number...

Thnx

 

 

imillard
imillard

These clowns don't give up easily.  When they say were they're calling from I tell them they have the wrong number, because THIS is the computer maintenance department - which it is.  I've been building and servicing computers for 28 years now.

Like Dave, I got so tired of these calls I registered  computermaintenancedept.com  where I post the phone numbers they use, and a lot of other info about this scam.

IanR
IanR

I had one of these calls earlier today 07Sep2012, here in Melbourne, Vic, Australia.  I have had maybe a dozen such calls over the past couple of years.  I always egg them on for fun.  This time I asked how they got my details.  He said - from my client id as held by Microsoft.  I said that I had never provided such info to Microsoft.  After going round in circles a few times I said that I run Linux only.  This didn't faze him - he kept on trying.  Then I called him a liar.  This got him angry and he told me to shutup and listen.  After a bit more of this he hung up.  They are getting better at this but they can never explain how my Linux machine manages to send the message that it is really Windows with a "problem".

yvette
yvette

beware of calle r(indian accent) saying his mane is Sam Parker from microsoft maintenence deaprtment, called here in australia on public holiday immediately suspiscious. have reported to the australian consumer affairs here in australia. phone number they gave me (07) 56414786. have been online microsoft never calls people at home they have posted a warning these calls are not made by microsoft. They are telling you have a unwanted programme or files i believe they get you to log onto a website which does plant a viris or trojan and then charge you to delete the virus or trojan.

MirandaKeefe
MirandaKeefe

The caller asked me if I knew I had a virus from the internet that was corrupting my computer.  I said, "No.  I didn't.  Thank you.  I'll take it into the shop to be checked."  Then I hung up.  I doubt they'll ever call me back.

imillard
imillard

Any calls from a "Computer Maintenance Department" are a scam.  Period.

And, any calls from a 'Private Name / Private Number are a scam.  Every one of them.

NO legitimate business EVER calls from a blocked number.  

 

The solution is simple.  If there's no Caller ID, don't answer the phone.  If these clowns get voicemail or an answering machine a couple of times they'll stop calling.

 

JT
JT

I told them I was using Linux a few weeks ago, they imediatelly hung up and have not called back since, I feel a bit dissapointed now, as I quite liked leading them on.

Dave
Dave

Good article. I got so sick of them I bought www.computermaintenancedepartment.com

marinetr
marinetr

these guys have called me in half a year ago while I was watching this piece of news in youtube. After I enlarge the volume and let them hear their evil scheme they immediately hang up the phone.

evilmegaman
evilmegaman

Awesome article Drew! Back in the game! Totally relevant to the week I've been having too @_@

Boomer The Dog
Boomer The Dog

I haven't heard of it here, but it seems very possible through something like Remote Desktop. The solution is for more people to use something like Ubuntu Linux! Kind of joking, but if you even said you used Linux, they would probably be the ones to hang up. I think a good way to fight them actively would be for the FBI to place a special 'trap computer' in the home of someone who was being called, then have the resident connect with the scammer using that, while the FBI connects to the other end, while the scammers are strung along. They could get tons of info on the scam in this way. It seems like users and the government are helpless against this kind of thing, and this is a way they could get pro-active. Yay for this story, it's the kind of balance I like to see at Zeropaid, with real information that helps people think and be aware, instead of just computer users and consumers.

Moritz1995
Moritz1995

Hi,(I m from Switzerland)

 

I dont think we ll get authoroties to stop this scam... :(

I had the virus but not anymore, just reseted my PC and installed again all the software I need, and windows mail to get the message of you..lol

 

Cheerio from cloudy and cold switzerland

Moritz1995
Moritz1995

Hi (I`m from switzerland)

Today a man called me claiming that he was from the ``Technical and maintenance departement of windows in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada``.

-First he said I would have a virus and they had to fix it.

-Then he convinced me to start my computer and open a programm (red A) and took over my computer to show me the Problem.

-Thirdly a women came on the line and said I had to pay for the service of fixing it. I told her that I dont have any money (I m a high-school kid) and then she said :``Okay then ill pay for you.`` -- Imagine!!!!!!! Then she said she had to hang up in order to work (I could still write her messages over the pc)

 

Finally my class-mate who was sitting beside me disconnected abruptly the line and wrote her that we are going to inform the police.

What should I do about this?

Cheerio from cloudy and cold switzerland

imillard
imillard

 @Moritz1995 I would recommend using Norton Antivirus 2012 to clean any bugs or malware from your computer.  Also, go to Spybot.com and download the free version of the program.  This will look for worms and other problems.

It s a sad world where you can't trust anybody - but it is true.  Any company who contacts you to offer a product or service can't be trusted.



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