ALBANY, Ga. — Beverly King on Briercliff Lane received a phone call from a stranger recently. She said the man, who spoke with a heavy Indian accent, informed her of a virus infection in her computer but he was ready to fix the problem.
“He told me his name was John Anderson and that he worked for Microsoft,” King said. “I didn’t believe that for a minute, but he was very insistent and almost demanded that I turn on my computer so I could see what he was saying. He got upset when I wouldn’t do it.”
King said it obvious to her the whole thing was a scam. She knew already that Microsoft “never makes cold calls about computers.” She was right. Microsoft states repeatedly and in many separate sources that they never call people about their computers.
Other Albany residents have reported receiving similar calls.
Almost certainly, King was the intended victim of an international “boiler room” scam originating in India. According to consumer information issued by the Federal Trade Commission, tens of thousands of people have been convinced to pay for needless “fixes” for malware or virus infections.
This is how it works, says the FTC: Organized scammers scan English-speaking phone books for likely victims. After getting their prospects to the phone, the scammers first claim they’ve detected malware on the prospects’ computers.
Then, according to an October 2012 article in “theguardian,” victims are directed to a program in their computer called “Event Viewer,” a standard part of the Windows operating system. That program displays logs of events occurring on the computer, sometimes with the label of “Warning” or “Error” which in fact have no significance to infection or the smooth running of the computer.
For many casual computer users, though, it’s convincing evidence. Victims are impressed enough to fork out $300 or more for a computer cleanup service they never needed.
“He claimed he was in San Antonio Texas,” King said of her mysterious caller. “But the caller ID showed a California prefix.”
King told the scammer to take a hike — exactly the right response, officials say. In fact the FTC has been cracking down on the criminal operations, which are not only in the U.S, but also the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, simply because their targets are English-speaking.
According to “theguardian” article, a federal district judge froze the U.S. assets of 17 people and 14 companies that have been accused of taking part in the scam operations. The FTC has also shut down 80 Internet domain names and 130 phone numbers used in the US to conduct the scams.
In some cases, the article stated, the scammers provided antivirus software from reputable companies and installed new copies of Windows on the targeted computers. That allowed Microsoft to use the license keys for the purpose of tracing the software back to its buyers, thus aiding the investigation.
Theguardian article stated that some scammers have been charged with violating the FTC Act, which bars “unfair and deceptive” commercial practices, breaching the Telemarketing Sales Rule and illegally calling numbers that are on the National Do Not Call Registry.
The Albany Police Department has been notified of the emergence of virus scammers locally and are researching reports of the activity. Phyllis Banks, spokeswoman for the APD stressed the importance of reporting any suspected scam activity.
“It’s important to have an accurate idea of what the problem is,” Banks said, “so we can issue appropriate warnings to the public.”