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The Microsoft Tech Support Scam is Getting a Whole New Twist

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The Microsoft Tech Support Scam is Getting a Whole New Twist

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No matter where in the world you reside, there's a pretty good chance that either you, a neighbor, or a family member has been on the receiving end of a phone call from someone claiming to represent Microsoft technical support. They will tell whoever answers the phone that their computer is infected with a virus or malware and that Microsoft has detected the issue and is reaching out to help get it fixed. They are, of course, lying.

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What's really happening is that the caller is trying to gain access to the victim's computer, either to steal data or to perform various "fixes" of non-existent issues and demand payment for services rendered. If the victim is lucky, that's as far as they'll go. In some cases, the scammers will actually cause real harm to the victim's computer, either because they refused to pay, or if the scammer felt they hadn't made enough of a profit on the call.

An Age-Old Con

It's a ruse that's almost as old as the internet itself. People have been on the receiving end of this particular scam since at least 2008, and it has been visited upon citizens on every continent. For a decade, despite various attempts by authorities all over the globe and even Microsoft itself to put an end to the scourge, the scammers have continued unabated. So far, the only real defense has been the fact that media outlets everywhere have warned the public not to be taken in by such fraudulent calls, in the hopes that the warnings might stem the tide of the fraud.

The Scammers Adapt

Now, in response to the widespread media attention that has focused on the tech-support scheme, the scammers appear to be adjusting their methods. The first evidence of what they're starting to do is coming out of Australia, where the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is reporting a big surge in losses to a new variant of the age-old tech support scam. According to the data, Australians have lost a staggering $4.4 million to the new scam variant so far this year, which is already more than the total losses for all of last year.

A New Twist

According to the ACCC, the scammers are now calling consumers and identifying themselves as one of the many NBN providers, Microsoft, or the police, and informing the victim that hackers have gained access to their bank accounts. Rather than claiming that they'll fix the problem, the scammers now try to enlist the victim's help in setting up a sting operation to catch the non-existent hackers. They will request remote access to the victim's computer and online banking account, explaining that they will deposit money into the account for the hacker to "steal", so it may be traced to its ultimate destination. In reality, the scammers typically shuffle money between the victim's own accounts and then transfer the sum to an account they control.

Just Hang Up

As this new twist on an old scheme starts to gain traction, expect it to start cropping up elsewhere in the world. So far, the scammers have been using virtualized call centers that disappear almost overnight to prevent the authorities from shutting them down, so there's little reason to believe that they will be any more successful in stopping this new variant than they have been already.

That means there's only one sure method that the general public can use to defeat the scammers: hang up the phone. Although it's been repeated ad nauseam already, know that nobody will ever spontaneously call you in response to anything your computer is doing. If you receive any unsolicited calls from anyone requesting access to your computer or bank account, it is a scam, period. If you keep that in mind, the scammers have no chance to make you their next victim, and you have nothing to fear.

Note: Some of the names, addresses, email addresses and telephone numbers in email samples on this website may have been impersonated.

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