Microsoft: Don't Be Tricked by Fake PC Support Phone Calls

Microsoft on Thrusday warned that scammers are now phoning home -- your home -- as one more way to get a fool to part with his money. The scam involves cybercriminals posing as security engineers calling people at home to tell them their PCs could be at risk for malware and offering free security checks, all while claiming to represent legitimate companies. It's a simple scam, and according to Microsoft, the ones who fall for it in English-language markets typically lose $875.

This isn't an entirely new scam, but one that is growing in popularity. Microsoft surveyed 7,000 computer users in the U.K., Ireland, U.S., and Canada, and of those surveyed, 15 percent said they had received a call from scammers. Out of those who received a call, 22 percent -- or 3 percent of the total survey sample -- admitted to being deceived into following the scammers' instructions. Victims permitted remote access to their PCs, downloaded malware-infested software, forked over credit card details, and made purchases.

"The security of software is improving all the time, but at the same time we are seeing cybercriminals increasingly turn to tactics of deception to trick people in order to steal from them," said Richard Saunders, director of International Public and Analyst Relations at Microsoft. "Criminals have proved once again that their ability to innovate new scams is matched by their ruthless pursuit of our money."

Some interesting numbers associated with Microsoft's report:

  • 79 percent of those deceived said they suffered some sort of financial loss
  • 53 percent said they suffered subsequent computer problems
  • While the overall average amount of money stolen was $875, Canadians forked over $1,560 on average
  • The average cost of repairing damage caused to computers by scammers was $1,730 ($4,800 in the U.S.)
  • 67 percent of those who lost money were able to recover, on average, 42 percent of it

Given the success rate and the average amount of money lost, this is a scam that is likely to become more prominent. Like every other scam, common sense applies. Microsoft warns to "be suspicious of unsolicited calls related to a security problem, even if they claim to represent a respected company," and to "never provide personal information, such as credit card or bank details, to an unsolicited caller," among other tips.