It was a coincidence of amazing proportions. Within seconds of sitting down to begin writing this article the phone rang. As usual, I checked the Caller ID and saw the all-too-irritating *OUT OF AREA* displayed. Okay, let the fun and games commence.
Ninety-nine percent of such calls are from (insert generic English name here) that typically (claim to) work for Microsoft or Windows. These kind folks have noticed on their system that my personal computer is sending out high levels of data and is causing a lot of concern. Now I’ve spoken to a lot of people in my area that have received similar calls as well as one poor individual that got taken in by this scam. Make no mistake – this IS a scam, pure and simple.
The first clue for me came immediately on my answering the phone. When I came here a few years ago I moved in with my fiancee. So now when I answer the phone and the caller asks to speak to Mr Fiancee’s Surname I know something is up. The second clue came within seconds because – at the time – my computer was sat on my desk completely without power following a short in the mains supply to the study.
The caller always directs the user to open the Event Viewer which is a tool that computer engineers can use to diagnose issues that arise with your machine. It’s important to note that even on a perfectly healthy computer the Event Viewer will show errors. They are, rather unhelpfully, indicated with confusing and misleading error codes that to the uninitiated will look very daunting.
Now usually by this point I’ve seen through the attempt but recently somebody I know was terrified about what she had seen on her computer and had allowed the caller full access to her machine. This is achieved remarkably easily through software that the victim downloads at the instruction of the caller. When this computer came to my attention I found various settings had been changed to allow remote access and code had even been copied to the user’s desktop to eliminate the evidence.
Since prevention is far better than cure, I’ve put together a list of things to be wary of in the event that you too receive one of these calls:
- Microsoft – and indeed any business – does NOT typically call its customers particularly if they make a statement to that effect in their Terms and Conditions.
- There is no such Microsoft division that identifies itself as Windows Viruses.
- The chances are you have never provided Microsoft with your phone number while using your computer. Ask yourself – or them! – how they found it.
- The more you say there’s nothing wrong with your computer the more aggressive the caller gets. My advice is to end the call as quickly as possible.
- More often than not the caller will start demanding sums of money to continue with the support service they claim to be providing.
Unfortunately, there is currently no way of blocking these types of calls. One of the main sources of OUT OF AREA calls is the VoIP system which allows any computer connected to the Internet anywhere in the world to act as a telephone.
Vigilance is the key. For now, all we can do is consider these callers a nuisance and ignore them. If for whatever reason you suspect you may have been taken in by one of these kind souls the best thing you can do is disconnect your computer from the Internet and get it looked at by a trusted professional. These days it’s not uncommon to store all kinds of personal data on your computer – it really needs to be protected.