Recently, I received yet another scam phone call claiming that my Internet service was about to be disconnected because my computer was sending out viruses. The call was supposedly from Australian telecommunications giant Telstra.
As per usual with such calls, the claim that your computer is distributing viruses is a lie. These calls are designed to trick you into divulging your personal and financial information to criminals and installing malware on your computer.
However, this call was a little different than others that I’ve received. The phone rang as usual but, when I picked up, I heard a recorded message instead of speaking to the scammer directly.
The message informed me that my computer was distributing viruses that were infecting other Telstra users and compromising Telstra’s Internet services. Therefore, claimed the message, my Internet service would be terminated within the hour unless I took immediate steps to fix the problem.
The message then gave me two options:
- Press 1 to contact support and get help to deal with the supposed virus problem.
- Press 2 to allow the service termination to continue.
Of course, pressing 1 just connects you to a scammer who will then attempt to trick you into providing your credit card details to pay for the help you supposedly need to fix the issue. The criminal can subsequently use your credit card numbers to conduct fraudulent transactions in your name.
The scammer may also demand that you follow his or her instructions to download and install remote access software. Once installed, this software allows the scammer to take control of your computer, load it up with malware, and access your personal files.
Pressing 2 just ends the call.
So, why would tech support scammers use this recorded message tactic rather than simply calling people directly?
Firstly, by using this method, the scammers can automatically filter out “time wasters” who are not likely to fall for their lies and deceit. Anybody who already knows about such scam attempts will simply hang up or press 2.
However, those who press 1 are much more likely to fall for the lies and proceed with the scammer’s instructions. Most people who press 1 will likely think the call really is from their service provider and that they must deal with the supposed problem or lose their Internet service. This makes the scammer’s job that much easier.
Secondly, the scammers can create a high-quality recorded message that sounds quite legitimate. The version I heard was in perfect Australian-accented English with a high audio quality. The message was probably created by a phone message service using good audio equipment along with professional copywriters and voice actors.
The people who man the phones in typical tech support scam call centres often struggle with spoken English and will usually not be able to deliver an initial dialogue as slick as that offered in the recorded messages. So, starting off with a professionally recorded message may fool more potential victims into believing that the calls are genuine.
The best way to deal with such scam calls is to just hang up.
If you are concerned that the call may have been legitimate, end the call and then contact the service provider directly. However, do not use any phone numbers that may be included in the recorded message. Instead, find a phone number for the provider via a legitimate source such as a phone directory or bill. If the call was legitimate, then the staff member that you contact should have a record of the problem and be able to assist you.
Keep in mind that service providers such as Telstra may occasionally contact you by phone to discuss service options or outline an account problem. However, 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.