Microsoft scam with a dark twist

Over the past few years, there have been a continuing barrage of calls from people claiming to be from Microsoft offering to “fix” the malware that they’ve detected on my and likely your computer.  At my house, I’ve gone through periods where I’ve received several of these calls in a single evening. What’s unsettling is that the callers know your name and possibly other details about you, including your spouses name and home address.

Everyone who reads The Family HelpDesk missives know that these calls are fake and should ignore them, as the goal is to get onto your computer and using a variety of methods, find ways to separate you from your money.  For details on this scam, see the Snopes article entitled: Microsoft Impersonation Scam.

Unfortunately, this scam has taken a dark turn. Reports are coming in that callers are now threatening people who don’t sign up  for the service. I’ve heard (from a local police department) that at least one caller was threatened to be killed when she declined the service.

The most recent call that I received went something like this:

caller: Is this Greg?

me: Yes

caller: I’m from the Microsoft threat center and we’ve determined that there is a problem with your computer.

me: What’s the problem?

caller: A virus that causing errors on the Internet

me: What’s the specific problem, error codes, or other symptoms?

caller: You’re computer is broken and causing problems …

We went around a couple times with me pressing for more detail, which of course he didn’t answers for. That’s when the call took a dark turn:

caller: Are you calling me a terrorist or criminal?

me: I didn’t call you anything, but if you’re asking: I don’t think you’re a terrorist, but you certainly are a criminal.

We went around about that a couple times also, with him leaving me with:

caller: Tomorrow your computer will permanently stop working and it will be your fault because you didn’t allow me to help you.

me: Thank you for letting me know, good bye!

Now, was a worried? Not really, but there was a nagging concern since there is always a chance that there was more to this than some foreign caller (they always sound like they are from the south Asia continent) attempting to scam me.

I was particularly troubled that the “tomorrow” the caller referred to happened to be Valentines Day. Frequently, malware is set to be triggered on significant dates, which Valentines Day is considered to be in the US.

On the positive side, we run Macs at the house, except for a single virtual machine hosting Windows 8 system that I use for a couple apps that need Windows. The caller was specifically targeting Windows. On my Windows system, I made sure the pertinent data was backed up, then I shut down the system on the 13th.  I restarted it on the 14th after disconnecting it from the network (that way if there was a problem it wouldn’t go beyond my Windows system).  After checking around the system, as expected, it was fine.

So, if you get a similar threatening call, consider the following:

  • The callers are typically not based in the US. I don’t know where they are calling from, but they are not next door.
  • The information that they offer up about you is very easy to find on-line.
  • Don’t engage them in conversation (like I did). Just hang up. They can’t threaten you if you don’t talk to them.
  • You might be able to block the number used. See this article on how to block a number on your iPhone.  Some landline services also offer blocking.  See your service provider.
  • If they do threaten your computer and you’re concerned, take it to an expert to evaluate the system.  Obviously, don’t sign up for the caller’s service, else you will have a problem on your computer.
  • If they threaten you, your family or property, then call the police.  They likely can’t do anything, but they might be able to provide some context that could help you feel better.

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