Cold calling tech-support scams have been around for quite a while now. Reports indicate that these people, generally based in India, have extorted millions of pounds out of English speaking victims in the UK, Canada, the US and other countries since 2008.
In the scam, the perpetrators call unsuspecting PC owners purporting to be from well known large companies like Microsoft or Dell for example and claiming that they have detected malware on their PC.
They generally put across quite a convincing story and to those not so technically savvy, can quite easily convince them they are genuine. They then go on to dupe you into giving them remote access to your PC telling you that they will fix the problem.
Once they have gained access to your machine, they then basically hold it to ransom, demanding exorbitant amounts of money to remove non existent malware.
The Guardian recently reported that as part of an ongoing global investigation into this type of crime, that US authorities have just frozen the US assets of 17 people and 14 companies that have been accused of taking part in the operations and who allegedly have conned tens of thousands of people with this type of scam. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has also shut down 80 internet domain names and 130 phone numbers used in the US to carry out the scams.
Unfortunately, most of the perpetrators are located in virtual offices overseas (typically in India) so it is difficult to actually make any arrests and they just relocate and set up again and start all over again so the problem is not going to go away any time soon.
All one can do is be on guard and don’t react to any such random phone calls in panic. Don’t do anything without running your own virus and malware scans on your PC and without talking to your own IT person or someone with a bit more technical knowledge who can advise you. Bottom line is, don’t ever let anyone have access to your PC remotely unless you know exactly who they are. You should already have decent virus checking software installed and running on your PC that will protect you from viruses and there are many separate malware checking packages available too which you can easily run yourself on your PC.
The important thing to remember is that how would any 3rd party know there is a problem with your PC if they don’t have access to it ? Clearly they don’t have access as that is what they are asking you to grant them!
Be aware and safe, not sorry.