Microsoft tech support scam still dupes users; Macs now targeted, too

The scam works because this alarming-looking screen is a legitimate part of Windows.
The scam works because this alarming-looking screen is a legitimate part of Windows.

“I work with Microsoft” the surprise caller says. “And your computer has a problem.”

So begins the Microsoft tech support phone scam. In a high-tech world, the low-tech crime of simply calling innocent people and tricking them into sending money is remarkably effective. It is always important to remember that, whenever seeking out IT support for your computer, you should always choose professional teams from sites such as instead of random people that call your phone.

After a brief tour through ominous-looking Windows system files, the victim is told to pay hundreds of dollars for a fix. A stunning number still fall for it. A Microsoft study released in 2011 said 22 percent of call recipients in the U.S., U.K., Ireland, and Canada coughed up an average of $875.

Red Tape reader David Bookbinder, who runs a tech service company in Massachusetts, says there’s been an epidemic of these calls among his customers recently.

“I’ve had this happen to four of my local clients that I’m aware of. One while I just happened to be sitting next to them working on their computer,” he said. He even received the scam call himself. The caller ID indicated it came from the number 1234567890. “It’s obviously becoming very prolific…People fall for this stuff. It’s scary, and they need to be made aware.”

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Even prosecution doesn’t interrupt the criminals. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission got a U.S. District Court judge to shut down six such operations, which it said were in India.

The scam works because it’s just believable enough. Victims are instructed to turn on their computers, then directed to open a Windows event viewer log and at its alarming-looking warnings. (Earth to Microsoft — make your software look less scammy! Oh, and if it worked better, the whole scam would be less believable)

“They usually have these people look at certain things, for example, the Services Applet, and then take advantage of the fact that most people have no idea what they’re looking at, and tell them that, ‘see, you have X problem or virus’ and Microsoft is going to shut down their computer in 48 hours unless they fix it,” Bookbinder said. “They then direct the people to their website to download either A. a connection program that gives the scammers access to their computer, or B. another malware program, probably a Trojan.”

To get a sense of how persistent the scammers are, watch this YouTube file, created by a techie who played along with the scam and recorded the results.

Graham Cluley, an independent computer security expert at, says the scam has “never really gone away…it’s the elderly and vulnerable most likely to fall victim.”

And while the traditional version of the scam targets Windows users, Cluley says Mac users have recently been successfully targeted.

Microsoft has a warning on its website about the fake tech support calls.


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About Bob Sullivan 1502 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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