Eric Johansen was suspicious when he got a phone call last Tuesday evening from a “contractor” from Microsoft who told him something was wrong with his computer and offered to fix it remotely.
Johansen says what the person on the other end of the line wanted of him was to download a website called Team Viewer — one of many virtual private network programs — that with a shared password would allow another individual to have access remotely to another’s computer. No money changes hands; only access to the computer is given to the other individual.
But rather than helping, Johansen suspects the individual only wanted to access his personal computer in order to steal private information such as passwords, credit card or account numbers, to put on spyware, or to install a keystroke monitor program. Johansen, who considers himself computer literate, said, “Once you give me access to your computer I can use it just like my own.”
He added that he was skeptical of the caller from the initial pitch and admitted he had knowledge of the Team Viewer program when he used it to help his father-in-law with his computer problems. Only later did Johansen discover three of the six friends he meets with for coffee regularly were also called and given the same pitch.
Because the caller was “slick” and “knew technical stuff and knew what they were doing,” Johansen says he’s concerned with how others may respond to the calls.
“The implication is if somebody makes the mistake of giving them access it’s basically identify theft,” he says. “The danger here is for someone who is not as knowledgeable as I am.”
The technology is frequently used for legitimate purposes by computer technical companies who are asked by customers to fix their computers, says Johansen, but rarely do companies cold call customers.
The Better Business Bureau has reported of similar, if not identical, scams. The bureau says there was never anything wrong with the computer, the caller is not working for Microsoft or any other computer company, and by falling for the scam computer owners give a complete stranger access to every piece of data on their computer.
BBB has confirmed with Microsoft that it does not make unsolicited phone calls to help fix personal computers and warns consumers about cybercriminals using the company’s name in their scams. BBB advises the public to treat all unsolicited phone calls with skepticism; check with the organization directly that the caller is claiming to be from, using the contact numbers found on its website; to not provide any personal information to the caller; and to report any fraudulent activity to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501 or www.antifraudcentre.ca.