By Richmond Lauman
Most of us are familiar with the online scam where a a pop up window appears on your screen telling you that your computer was found to contain a dangerous virus, trojan, malware, etc. The warning looks like it might be legitimate and part of your own system. It tells you that you will need a specific malware removal program or registry cleaning program and will provide a link for you to click. If you click the link you are taken to some web page where you can download and install the program... for a price with your credit card. After installing the program and running it, you soon discover that your system is no longer running worse, you cannot run the antivirus or malware protection programs properly, when you browse the web you are directed to pages you know you did not want to go to and you cannot access any known legitimate online scanning sites. In short, it seems that the program you downloaded and installed was itself malware and not a program for removing it as you were led to believe. Then when you try to contact support for the company that processed your credit card payment, you get stonewalled and run around until you realize, "I have been had! No help or compensation will be coming from this company!".
This scam has been around for a lot of years and in that time many people have become wary of it, making it more difficult for the perpetrators to find unwary victims. What is a cold, calculating criminal to do in order to make a dishonest buck!?
The solution is to set up businesses and make them look as legitimate as possible. Maybe call them something like "Ask Computer Experts" or some similar name. Get a number of full professional looking websites with a variety of domain names, fill them with the kind of content you would expect to find on legitimate sites offering technical assistance for PC owners, create social networking accounts (like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) for your businesses. Do your best to establish a look of a real and trustworthy company: the kind of company that will appear legitimate even if someone does internet research on it and carefully goes through the site. The solution is to do all of the things a legitimate and honest company might do and a suspicious company would seem unlikely to do.
Once that is done you set up a call center, procure a list of names and phone numbers and have your people call them. Knowing that if you can reach the person whose name is on the list, there is about an 81 percent chance that person owns a PC they can start by warning the victim that some kind of problem was found on their Windows installation when their PC was scanned (perhaps tracking cookies.. perhaps something more serious). Then a link to the elaborate company site can be given and technical assistance offered.
If it does not occur to the victim to ask, "How did your company detect anything on my PC without scanning it and if it was scanned what are you doing scanning my personal computer without permission?". Then it becomes a cakewalk for the caller to get the victim to agree to allowing a remote connection to their PC so "technical assistance can be given". Once connected, the support assistant is able to download a virus or some other type of malware to the mark's pc and the tech can then say, "Oh look here! I have found a serious threat! It needs to be removed at once and my company has just the right removal tool. I can download it for you and remove the threat for the low cost of...".
You see where this is going.
Regardless of how legitimate they seem, be wary of any unsolicited phone calls that:
Two simple criteria that will allow you to avoid serious problems and loss of money. If the help is unsolicited and for a problem they should not be able to know because you did not give permission to scan your pc, then you can be certain you are being scammed.
Legitimate companies offering legitimate service cannot scan your pc without permission and are very unlikely to cold call you with claims they can fix problems that can only be detected with a scan.
If the modus operandi of these villains is spread, then with any luck even these elaborate and personal attempts to separate honest people from their money will become as difficult for them as their older and less elaborate methods.
About the Author
Richmond Lauman is a Web Designer/Developer who owns JAMAXX Web Design, a Web Design company in Nanaimo, BC, Canada.
This article may be re-printed and used free of charge as long as it remains in it's entirety including credit to the author, information about the author, and a link to the author's website.