Spot and avoid a dangerous phone tech support scam

I recently got an email from Toni in Greenville, SC, describing an odd experience she had on the phone. I wanted to share it with you and bring out some important points that everyone needs to know.

Writes Toni:

I received a phone call from a phone number (215-454-2121) saying he was an IT tech with Microsoft. He claimed my IP address indicated very malicious attacks going on in my computer and it was going to crash momentarily. He wanted me to go to the computer and he would show me the info.

Right away, this is one of the most common setups to a phone tech support scam. Someone calls claiming to be from Microsoft, Google or another recognizable tech support company. They say they’ve detected a serious problem with your computer and they need access to fix it.

The giveaway here is that no legitimate company does this kind of thing. In very rare and extreme cases, your Internet service provider might call you about problems with your Internet connection, but that’s about it.

Even then, it won’t ask to get on your computer; it will direct you to instructions on its website. If you have problems with the directions, you can call them back from there.

The best thing to do is hang up, right away, but let’s see what Toni did next.

I said I could not get to the computer right now, but he was insistent I needed to do it immediately. I said I could not, but if he explained to me what to do I would write it down. Then I asked for a phone number to which I could call him back.

Toni did the next best thing you can do in the situation, and what you should do if you aren’t sure the call is fake. She proposed a reasonable request that kept the caller off her computer, and asked for a callback number. A real tech support person would have no trouble with this.

[The caller] gave me the number 206-542-3164. I continued to talk and asked for the phone number again. This time he gave me 206-542-3641.

There’s a dead giveaway that the caller is up to something. They should at least know their own number. True, these numbers are also different than the Caller ID number, but sometimes callback numbers are different depending on how the company is arranged.

[The caller] did say he was calling from India and he did have a heavy accent. I kept asking for the info to write down and he said he wanted to call me back and when was I available?

Again, this is a classic scammer technique. They do everything possible to get on your computer because once they’re there, they can slip on viruses and lock you out. Then you have to pay them to unlock your system.

Also, remember at the beginning of the call the caller said Toni’s computer was going to crash right away. Suddenly he’s OK with calling back at a later time?

[The caller] got mad because I kept asking questions. He said, “This is bu**sh**,” so I hung up on him.

Even if this guy wasn’t a scammer – which he was – this isn’t a tech support person you want to be dealing with. From having friends in the tech support business, I know for a fact that tech support people can lose their cool with difficult customers.

However, they wouldn’t throw away their job by swearing at a customer – usually their calls are recorded – and Toni was being completely reasonable.

Toni goes on to say that she tried calling the 215 number on her caller ID and the number wasn’t in service. That’s understandable; scammers have tools to spoof caller ID to make it look like the call is coming from a real number.

In this case, the 215 area code is around Philadelphia, which does have Microsoft facilities – not that many people know that. The 206 call back numbers are Seattle, which more or less matches Microsoft’s main headquarters in Redmond.

Toni didn’t try calling the other numbers, but she did Google them and got a lot of people saying they were scam numbers. If you’re even in that situation, you can plug the numbers into Google or use the site 800 Notes while you’re on the phone with the person.

Toni then wondered,

What can we do about these phone numbers? Is there anyone I can report these phone numbers to who would care? Or, should I just let it go?

Well, you can report scams like this to the Federal Communications Commission. It doesn’t have a specific scam category, but this would fall under Caller ID Spoofing.

You can also fire off a message to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. However, in this case I wouldn’t expect too much action.

Your best bet is to share your story with your friends and family so they aren’t fooled. You can add the numbers the scammer gave you to 800 Notes to help other people avoid a similar scam. Unfortunately, that’s about it.

I do have to say, though, that Toni did everything right. She took her time and didn’t let the caller pressure her. She tried to verify his information and made herself so uncooperative that the scammer just gave up on his own.

So, excellent job, Toni, and thank you for writing in so other listeners can benefit from your experience.

Have you had an interaction with a scammer? I’d love to hear about it! How did you prevent the attack or did you become a victim? Tell us your experience in the comments below.

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