By Rosalynn Carmen and Leonard Novarro
Shut down your computer before you sleep because the scammers out there are wide awake.
We found that out recently the hard way. We were downloading some material, which was taking longer than usual. So, we went off to sleep and left everything to complete the job.
We awoke about 3 a.m., looked at the computer screen and saw something pulsating in the upper left-hand corner of the computer screen. We went to move our cursor on the screen and – BLATT!
Frozen and before us was the “blue screen of death” with this message: “Your computer has been blocked. Call us immediately.” It looked somewhat official because off to the left was the Microsoft logo and the message further proclaiming that there was a problem with Windows 10, which immediately aroused suspicion. We don’t have Windows 10. We have Windows 8. We called the phone number on the screen 844-604-5350. A woman with a heavy accent on the other end of the line answered with “Tech Support.”
We asked for the manager, who, with even stronger accent, came to the phone. We asked his name. “Ben Johnson,” he replied, with an accent so thick you could barely detect what he said. We asked the name of the company and he said they were tech support for Microsoft and for a price they could fix the problem. When we asked where they were based, his reply first was “India,” then stammering, he answered “Virginia.” After accusing him of running a scam, he hung up.
According to Microsoft, this is all too common. While reluctant to discuss the problem, the company sent this link, which explains the extent to which these virus-sprouting, garbage laden, sleazeball companies will go. With some suggestions from Microsoft, we were able to dismantle the virus, a feat which is becoming increasingly difficult to do.
These scams can be tied directly to outsourcing. Their proliferation has increased exponentially as more service sector jobs are outsourced, especially to India. This is not to attack all outsourcing. In fact, the best customer service we experienced has been from call centers in the Philippines.
Recently, Reuters reported on yet another scam in which the Indian government, with the help of the FBI, cracked down on a major call center, in which employees were calling Americans, telling them they were the subject of an IRS investigation and to call a special number to learn more. When the respondents, most of them senior citizens, did call, they were offered deals to settle the bogus claims.
You would think that something as obvious as this would alert most consumers. But it didn’t. Several of these call centers were making as much as $150,000 a day for up to a year and were closed down only after the FBI planted a mole in the operation.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of operations like this still out there. According to U.S. officials, the scams mentioned here are just among the few that have been reported.
Microsoft will tell you that they do not charge a fee for giving technical support if you have a problem. But they do imply that these scams will grow and likely get worse.
You might wonder how people fall for this kind of stuff. But when your livelihood is at stake, with the prospect of your data being irretrievable, at first you may not know what to do. And that’s when panic is likely to ensue. So, make sure you have solid anti-virus software, don’t forget to use it all the time, and if by chance you fall subject to one of these attempts, stay calm and confident. The worst thing to fear is fear itself. But don’t be afraid to lob a few good curses through the phone line.
Leonard Novarro and Rosalynn Carmen are the founders of the Asian Heritage Society and Asia Media Inc.