The FTC today froze the assets of 14 companies involved in a long-term scam. These companies, usually based in India, cold-called up English-speaking consumers posing as a representative of a major tech company, such as Microsoft, Symantec (makers of Norton Antivirus), and Dell. Using the credibility that they stole posing as representatives of a tech company, they told the marks that their PCs (usually Windows) were infected with nasty malware. Regardless of whether the PC was actually infected or not, the scammers offered to clean the machines, but not for free. Usually the scammers asked for $50-$500 in exchange for “cleaning” the computer.The most ingenious part of the scam is the telemarketers ask the user to bring up Windows Event Viewer, which is a log usually full of harmless errors. To many users, especially the less computer-literate likely to fall for this kind of scam, the logs look like a crisis. Even worse, the scammers often direct the mark to install actual malware, which then leads to identity theft.
While the FTC estimates that the victim count could number in the tens of thousands, the problem could actually be more widespread than that: a Microsoft study conducted in 2011 estimated that 15% of PC users had received this type of unsolicited call. If you’re reading Ubergizmo, I assume that you know how to check your machine for malware, but it bears repeating: if you receive a cold call (or even a popup on the internet) saying that your computer is full of viruses, don’t believe it.