Cybercriminals use "computer security" phone scam to grab credit card details

While most of us are busy worrying about computer viruses and hackers stealing credit card details over the internet, a survey conducted by Microsoft Corp. has found cybercriminals are now picking up the phone, posing as computer security engineers and convincing computer users they have a virus on their computer and need to hand over their details.

Cybercriminals behind the emerging form of internet scam have been targeting English-language markets worldwide and racking up credit card bills of around $875 per victim.

"The scam works by criminals posing as computer security engineers and calling people at home to tell them they are at risk of a computer security threat. The scammers tell their victims they are providing free security checks and add authenticity by claiming to represent legitimate companies and using telephone directories to refer to their victims by name," explained Microsoft.  

"Once they have tricked their victims into believing they have a problem and that the caller can help, the scammers are believed to run through a range of deception techniques designed to steal money."

Across the UK, Ireland, the US and Canada an average of 15 percent of the 7,000 people surveyed recalled receiving a call from someone posing as a security engineer. In Ireland the figure jumped to 26 percent.

The scam was so believable that 22 percent of computer users who had received a call were conned into downloading software, providing credit card information, making a purchase or giving the hackers remote access to their computer.

79 percent of those deceived by the callers suffered some kind of financial loss and 53 percent said they suffered subsequent problems with their computer.

On average, those who fell for the scam had $875 stolen from them - loses ranged from $82 in Ireland up to $1,560 in Canada.

"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."

While the phone scam primarily targets Microsoft Window users, Mac users are not immune to falling victim to a new wave of scams involving fake anti-virus software or “scareware.”

“Scareware, or fake anti-virus, is fake security software which pretends to find dangerous security threats - such as viruses - on your computer. The initial scan is free, but if you want to clean up the fraudulently-reported "threats", you need to pay,” explained security company Sophos in a June 7 blog post detailing tips for avoiding infection.

Microsoft said that the “most effective protection lies in consumer education to prevent people from becoming victims in the first place.”

In addition to being well educated about internet and phone scams, Microsoft advises users:

  • Be suspicious of unsolicited calls related to a security problem, even if they claim to represent a respected company.
  • Never provide personal information, such as credit card or bank details, to an unsolicited caller.
  • Do not go to a website, type anything into a computer, install software or follow any other instruction from someone who calls out of the blue.
  • Take the caller's information down and pass it to the authorities.
  • Use up-to-date versions of Windows and application software.
  • Make sure security updates are installed regularly.
  • Use a strong password and change it regularly.
  • Make sure the firewall is turned on and that antivirus software is installed and up to date.
  • Microsoft Security Essentials is a free antivirus product and is available at http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/security_essentials/default.aspx.
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