This story was first published on August 29, 2014
People continue to receive phone calls claiming to be from the technical department of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as Telstra. The callers warn that your Internet service is about to be disconnected because hackers have accessed your computer or it has been infected with viruses.
Calls Are Not From Your ISP
However, these calls are not from your ISP and the claims that your computer has been hacked or infected are untrue. The calls are one version of a long running scam that tries to trick people into paying fees for imaginary technical support services and downloading software that allows criminals to take control of your computer. If you receive one of these scam calls, just hang up.
Telstra ‘Tech Support’ Scammer – A Personal Encounter
I recently received an unexpected phone call from ‘John’ at Telstra technical support. John claimed to be calling from the Telstra office in Melbourne, Australia, but the caller ID on my phone indicated that the call came from overseas.
John politely informed me that my computer had been accessed by hackers and was currently putting other Telstra customers in danger. (Telstra is a very large telecommunications company based in Australia.)
John claimed that, unless I followed his instructions to deal with the hackers immediately, my Internet service would be disconnected within the hour.
Playing along, I expressed doubt that John was really from Telstra or that his hacking story was true. He then offered to prove the claims to me by getting me to open ‘Event Viewer’ on my computer and seeing if there were any ‘Critical’ events or errors listed.
When I told him that there were several events listed as critical, he expressed dismay and claimed that the events showed that the hacker must now have complete access to my computer.
But, he claimed, he could stop the hacker and repair my computer straight away if I was willing to pay an upfront service fee via credit card and download software that would allow him to remotely control my computer.
At this point, I ‘owned up’ and told him that I knew he was a scammer. He continued to bluster for a time, and threatened that, if I did not comply, Telstra would take legal action against me for ‘damaging their infrastructure.’ He then apparently gave up on me and terminated the call.
Of course, ‘John’ was certainly not from Telstra and his ‘hacking’ story was nonsense. And his ‘proof’ was no proof at all. The ‘critical’ items, errors, and warnings logged in the Windows Event Viewer list mundane events such as unexpected shutdowns, software crashes or component conflicts.
But the tech support scammers know that there will almost always be at least a few critical events, errors, and warnings logged on an average Windows computer. To less experienced computer users, the Event Viewer items may seem rather scary. In fact, the Event Viewer may well be a tool that they have never seen before.
The descriptions of the errors often use jargon that will likely be unfamiliar to many users. The scammers are able to exploit this lack of knowledge to trick people into complying.
Once they have convinced you that their bogus claims are real, the scammers can then instruct you to download and install remote access software. The software itself is perfectly legitimate and is often used by real technical support staff to allow them to remotely deal with customer computer problems.
But, once the scammers have tricked you into installing the software and allowing them access, they will be able to steal personal information from the compromised computer and install malware. This malware will allow them to continue controlling the computer even after you have disconnected the remote access software. The malware may continue to harvest sensitive information from your computer, download even more malware, and use your computer to send out spam and scam messages.
And, by getting you to pay upfront for their ‘services’, the scammers get hold of your credit card details. They will likely take much more from your account than just the supposed technical service fee they initially quoted.
The scammer I describe here claimed to be from Telstra. However, when contacting people in other parts of the world, the scammers pose as staff from other popular Internet service providers.
Thwarting Tech Support Scammers
The best way to deal with these scammers is to simply hang up on their bogus calls.
However, if you are unsure, terminate the call and contact the service provider directly. DO NOT use a phone number supplied by the scammers. Instead, find a phone number for the provider via a legitimate source such as a phone directory or bill. In some cases, if you are doubtful of their claims, the scammers may provide a ‘technical support’ phone number supposedly belonging to your ISP. But, when you call the number, you will simply be reconnected to the same scammer.
Remember that while service providers such as Telstra may contact you from time to time to review your service options or discuss a problem with your account, they will never demand an immediate fee over the phone to rid your computer of hackers or viruses. Nor will they ask you to download software that gives them access to your computer.
Any caller that makes such a request should not be trusted.
Variations of The Scam
As well as the ‘hacker’ version described above, the scammers may also claim that your computer is sending out viruses. In other cases, the scammers will claim to be from Microsoft or well-known antivirus companies rather than from your Internet service provider.