I’ve written in the past about both cold calling and internet scams. Now it seems that enterprising fraudsters have found a way to combine the two.
It starts with a telephone call. Usually there is an Indian voice telling you that his name is David or Peter. Something typically British anyway. He informs you that he is calling from a computer repairs company or, in some cases, from Microsoft and that a virus has infected your PC.
Now for most people a lot of alarm bells will already be ringing. But for some the worry of a virus on their computer causes them to take the call seriously. And they follow the instructions given, which usually involve either downloading a program that will sort things out, for a fee of course, or giving the caller remote access to their PC.
Both of these actions lead to software being installed that steals your personal information, including credit card details and log ins to banking sites.
This type of fraud is now big business. Some gangs, employing anything up to 400 staff, are known to set up their own call centres to target people en masse. Tony Neate, head of the campaigning group Get Safe Online, told the BBC that one operation in Eastern Europe turned over an amazing £4.5m in a year.
The group has also found that one in five adult web users in Scotland had been approached by someone claiming to be from an IT helpdesk and offering to check their computer for viruses.
Thousands of spam emails offering virus check services have also been sent out while almost half (48%) of all web users have seen a pop-up window claiming their computer is infected. Again, they are prompted to download a program or to run a scan, both of which install malicious software.
So the message is to be careful. Everyone should have an anti-virus programme installed on their PC. And if someone you don’t know tries to get you to install software on your computer, don’t be tempted.
I had one of the suspicious calls myself last week. The caller claimed to be from the Computer Maintenance Department. When I asked him which company his department was part of, he didn’t answer. And when I asked him for a telephone number so I could call him back once I had checked the PC for myself he hung up abruptly.
Well, it was more fun than simply putting the phone down on him.