Friday 28 January 2011

28.01. Microsoft scam

Have you heard about the Nigerian Scam? Or maybe you have heard it as the Nigerian Letter or the 419 fraud? Or what about the Nigerian bank scam or Nigerian money offer? Anyone with an Internet access is probably nodding now! All these scams are modern versions based on much older scams, like the Spanish Prisoner and the Black Money scam. The modern 419 scam originated in the early 1980s as the oil-based Nigerian economy declined. Unemployed university students first used this scam as a means of manipulating business visitors interested in shady deals in the Nigerian oil sector before targeting businessmen in the west, and later the wider population. Scammers in the early 1990s targeted companies, sending scam messages via letter, fax, or Telex. The spread of e-mail and easy access to e-mail-harvesting software significantly lowered the cost of sending scam letters by using the
Internet. In the 2000s, the 419 scam has spurred imitations from other locations all over the world. The number "419" refers to the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud. According to Wikipedia, Insa Nolte, a lecturer of University of Birmingham's African Studies Department, stated that "The availability of e-mail helped to transform a local form of fraud into one of Nigeria's most important export industries!

This type of fraud is similar to a much older scam known as the Spanish Prisoner scam, in which the trickster tells the victim that a rich prisoner promised to share a treasure with the victim in exchange for money to bribe prison guards. An older version of this scam existed by the end of 18th century, and is called "the Letter from Jerusalem". Scams are probably as old as civilization! It’s just that with the invention of the Internet, millions of people can easily be reached for hardly any money at all. And it seems that some of us are silly enough to go on these scams, again and again. One of the long running scams is the lottery scam, which involves fake notices of lottery wins. The winner is usually asked to send sensitive information to a free e-mail account. The scammer then notifies the victim that releasing the funds requires some small fee (insurance, registration, or shipping). Once the victim sends the fee, the scammer invents another fee. Another old running scam is that Microsoft has decided to test out a new version of Internet Explorer, and will trace everyone that uses it to which you have forwarded the scam email to. If the email gets passed on again, you get more money!  Yeah, as if! Here is THE FULL STORY FROM SNOPES.

But what about this one, which I have been a target of lately: I am being called up by someone who says they are calling from Microsoft, from their Internet department, and they say that when making my updates from Microsoft they have registered that my computer has been infected with malicious software! The first time I was called, I was sceptical to why I was called, but rather taken aback by the seriousness of the fact that my computer could be infected by something – after all, I take great pride in having a clean computer with up-to-date antivirus and anti-spyware. I got my laptop through my son; he bought it where he works, so I knew that Microsoft didn’t have my name and phone number in connection with my laptop. So I decided to proceed cautiously, and see what they wanted. The woman who called me tried to convince me that she was from Microsoft by making me look into the registry for a number that supposedly was my Windows license number, and told me not to read it out loud because she read back to me the very same number – and by this tried to convince me that only I and Microsoft knew my license number, so she WAS indeed from Microsoft. I didn’t think of turning my laptop upside down, if I had done that, I could have compared the two numbers and probably have seen that the number she made me find was NOT my license number; but the sticker underneath is. The next step these people do is to ask you to go and fin the error log in the “Windows Event Viewer”. And there will always be errors and question marks there; that’s perfectly normal, but they will pretend that this is proof that you have an infection, and then persuade you to accept one of their technicians to “help” you via remote assistance to get rid of your problems. And if you thought you were talking to a tech guy at Microsoft, offering to give you free aid getting rid of a huge head ache you just got told you had...why wouldn’t you accept?? Many people have, people who probably didn’t have any malicious software before they got this phone call, but after accepting the help, they surely did! And their banking details and all their passwords etc got harvested from their computer too. You can read about the whole thing here, in AN ARTICLE FROM THE GUARDIAN from July 2010. 

I didn’t get caught into this scam; I am naturally sceptical to anyone cold-calling me and when this woman couldn’t tell me how they supposedly had obtained the information about the virus that was meant to be infecting my computer I broke off the call – long before we got to “Windows Event Viewer” and requests for accepting an incoming Remote Assistance. But here is the thing: This incidence happened nearly 2 years ago, and since then they have kept calling me about every other month to tell me that my computer is infected! And every time they tell me that they are calling from Microsoft, from the Internet department. And every time I interrupt the caller by saying “Not interested, stop calling me”. This week alone I have been called 4 times, on Wednesday I was called twice the same day! I spend most of my time at home, so my phone usually gets answered – and these people don’t show their number on my caller display. Lots of people in Britain have unregistered numbers these days, and lots of businesses and authorities have too; when someone from any of the hospitals I go to call me, it just says “not available” on my telephone display. It is impossible for me to distinguish between sales people and genuine calls I would like to take – so I have to answer them all unfortunately. But I am so fed up with these calls, they often call very early in the morning before I have woken up and it is a nuisance borderline on harassment. But what can you do?? From what I have read, lots of people have tried shutting them down already, to no avail. Changing my phone number seems a bit drastic, but it could work for a while I suppose :-)

These people are not the only one cold-calling me; there is a mobile phone company that keeps ringing me too, and an accident claims company. They are all breaching the TPS rules, as I have registered years ago, but I suppose for International companies, TPS is not really a force to be afraid of, certainly not if you are running an international scam as well! If you live outside Britain and don’t know what TPS is, I can tell you that it is an organisation with which you can register your phone number, and from 1999 the law made it unlawful to make unsolicited marketing calls to individuals who had their numbers listed on the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) register. A business can be fined £5000 for making a marketing call to a TPS listed number. It is up to me to report a breach, and thereby lies the problem...I have on several occasions asked for a phone number to the people who supposedly are calling me from Microsoft, but every time the line is very conveniently going dead when I start to ask such questions! Not that I necessarily would get a live phone number; according to what I have read about this scam, some people have got a phone number when they have asked, but when trying the number it only leads to an answer machine or nowhere.

Oh-well...the bottom line is: be sceptical, be sensible, and don’t ever give out any sensitive info to people who call YOU. If you are the one who calls for help, then it’s different, you know who you have called and who you are talking to, but you should still not ever give your passwords out over the phone or in an email. No-one should ever ask you for such information. And Microsoft never calls you to warn you that something is wrong with your computer, never ever, ever. You will have to contact Microsoft yourself if you want help from them :-)

And if you are having a need for a bit of a laugh today, here is a link for you to the MAIN PAGE FOR SNOPES. Here you can read about all sorts of scams and hoaxes, but also stories that are true that you might have heard and perhaps now for the first time can get verified. It is a treasure trove beyond believe! Read and be amazed :-) But here are literarily thousands of stories so get this link into your favourites for later, you won’t get through more than a fraction in one day!

Sorry I didn’t provide you with any photos today; I never nick photos off the Internet, anything you find here in my blog is genuinely mine, from my camera, and I didn’t have a photo to go with today’s theme :-) I think as a one-off this post can pass without any graphics though, but I don’t intend to make it a habit. So...that’s a small introduction to the issue of scams...haven’t even talked about hoaxes so that might be for another day perhaps. I think I should end this one though, don’t want to get you bored! Have a look at Snopes though, seriously, it’s some hilariously funny stuff there! Take care, see you soon.

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