Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Phone Fraud

Phone Scams | “Computer Support” Calls | Error Messages | Fake Caller ID

Phone calls about computer errors, credit card deals and pending arrest warrants are all scams.

Identity theft information is now contained on three pages:

Phone and email scams have a lot in common.

Report Identity Theft

If you have been a victim of identity theft (or suspect you have), contact the police to report identity theft.

Don't let embarrassment keep you from talking to the authorities. If you were the only victim, identity theft would not be a growing problem.

The sooner you report the potential identity theft, the sooner you can begin to resolve the issue.

Fraudulent Phone Calls

There are two general ways that the phone is used in perpetrating scams and identity theft:

  1. phone calls attempting to con the person answering into providing information, funds or access to their computer; or
  2. fake error messages listing a phone number to call for support.

Both are attempts at identity theft using the telephone.

Phone Scams

From bogus “computer support” calls to “free” vacations to fake charities to unexpected “government” calls threatening arrest, scams are perpetrated on innocent victims every day.

Phone scams are no joke. Scammers target millions of Americans every year via robodialers and many people fall victim as they are threatened with arrest warrants or guaranteed free vacations. — CallerSmart.com

These Callers are Thieves

The purpose of their call is to steal from you — your money; your identity; your trust. Learn how to protect your identity.

When someone approaches you, remember they always want something. — Frank Catalano

Don't be the next victim! Don't engage the caller. Just hang up.

Let Unknown Numbers Go to Voice Mail

Fraud experts recommend that you let all unknown numbers go to voice mail, even if they appear familiar. Scammers use fake caller ID to appear to be local callers.

Warning Signs

Any of these warning signs indicate that you're probably dealing with a scammer:

  • A call offering a better credit card rates.
  • A call offering a special discount or an unexpected prize.
  • A call from a “CRA officer” stating you're about to be arrested for tax fraud.
  • A call telling you that purchases have been made to your credit card.
  • Most robo-call offers.

Don't respond. Just hang up.

Callers Need to Prove Their Identity

Be wary of any calls you didn't initiate.

If YOU contact your bank or credit card company, they need information to identify you. This is normal. Just be sure you obtain that contact number from a trusted source.

However, if you DIDN'T initiate the call using a reliable source for the phone number, the caller has no right to expect you to provide such information.

Don't Provide Information

NEVER either confirm or provide any information to an unknown caller (especially when asked to prove who you are).

  • Never give out personal information
  • Never confirm or correct information.
  • Never provide credit details or a credit card.

Never give any personal information, such as a Social Security number, to a caller unless you're positive he or she is a legitimate representative of a company with which you regularly do business.

If there's any question, ask for the caller's full name, title and department and tell him or her you'll call back.

Use the business's phone number as posted on its website or, better still, on any snail-mailed statement or correspondence you've received from the company. — ZoneAlarm Security Blog

Missed Calls

Be wary when calling back a missed number, particularly if it only rang once. Calls to regular numbers in certain (mostly Caribbean) countries can be treated like 900 “pay-per-minute” numbers.

Credit Card Scams

Credit cards are involved in most of these scams in one way or another. They'll try to either scare you or use greed to cause you to respond positively rather than question their authenticity.

  • Even though they've called you, they'll request that you provide your credit card details, name, address, etc. “to prove who you are” (and enough to be able to either use the card or establish credit in your name).
  • Remember, they called you.
  • These calls usually mention both VISA and MasterCard. Most financial institutions only offer one or the other.
  • There is a relatively new credit card scam where the automated call says there are international charges on your card. Usually fairly large purchases are mentioned.

Remember, these are seldom legitimate calls. Thieves are trying to con you into giving up your credit card details.

Prize Scams

These calls begin by telling you that you've won a lottery or some other significant prize. But there's a catch: you need to pay shipping and taxes or other fees before the prize is delivered.

  • Prizes are not taxable in Canada and there should never be any shipping or handling fees regardless of where you live.
  • It is highly likely that you won't remember having entered the named contest or even know about it.

Similarly, any special discount would not involve shipping or other fees.

CRA and Threats of Arrest

This is a particularly scary call. A person identifying themselves as a CRA officer states that you owe a great deal of tax and a warrant is being issued for your arrest unless you can pay the officer.

The Canada Revenue Agency will never call and use nasty language or threaten a customer. They will also never ask for credit card information, personal information by email or text, or request your social insurance number or ask for bank account information. — CTV News

Callers Need to Prove Their Identity

  • You would be notified by mail of any amount outstanding on your taxes long before this point.
  • Police officers would be at your door rather than someone calling you if there was a reason to arrest you.
  • You would be notified by mail of any amount outstanding on your taxes long before this point.

The newest variation appears to be calls from your local police threatening arrest.

Scammers have defrauded Canadians out of tens of millions of dollars over the past decade pretending to be collecting back taxes with the Canada Revenue Agency — but police are warning of a new twist on the old scam.

The scammers are pretending to be officers with local police forces, investigators said.

The thieves are also using caller ID spoofing so it looks like the call is coming from a police phone number. — CTV News

“Can You Hear Me?”

Your response to “Can You Hear Me?” or similar questions can be recorded and used as “proof” you ordered a product or service.

Scammer Tricks

These are known scam techniques. Don't respond; just hang up.

  • They call early in the morning or late at night (when you're not alert). This is illegal in Canada.
  • They request that you confirm your account number or other details.
  • They ask for remote access to your computer or to download and install software.
  • They use a transfer of trust by saying they are with a well-known agency such as Microsoft, the CRA or IRS.

Remember, they called you! so it's their identity that is unconfirmed.

Resources

For more information, try these resources:

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Beware of “Computer Support” Calls

While this section deals specifically with computers, similar motives and techniques are used in other scams including offers to lower your credit card rate and threats of arrest from CRA “security officers.”

I'm calling from Microsoft…

No, they aren't.

If you receive a phone call from a “technical support” person saying that you have a problem with your computer, Just hang up. All such calls are SCAMS.

Globally, about two-thirds of the respondents had encountered a technical support scam. About one in five had been duped -- allowed the scammer to continue his or her story -- and nearly one in 10 had actually given money to the fraudster. — ComputerWorld
Telephone scams return around $470 per call. Thanks to robocalling (automated calling), number finding technology, and fake caller IDs, scammers fool more people than ever before. Given how much money the scam makes, and how little call centers pay (e.g., Indian call centers pay around $2 an hour), your decision to "keep them on the line" really isn't helping anyone. — MakeUseOf

If you have reason to believe the call is legitimate, hang up then look up the number from legitimate source such as a recent invoice or statement from that company or agency then call them back using the number printed on that form.

In most cases, the company won't know what you're talking about and you've just avoided being scammed.

They are Scamming You

The person calling you is undoubtedly more technically adept than most users.

They will attempt to convince you that your computer needs fixing then charge you for this unnecessary “support call.”

Remember, they called you to tell you about problem you weren't experiencing.

All computers run slower over time. The caller will most likely make the problem worse as well as sell you bogus anti-virus software or services. They will, in fact, make your computer less secure.

If they were legitimate and could actually look into your computer to see errors, they could have fixed it without calling you. Instead, they are scamming you.

Fake Websites

The caller will attempt to “prove” they are legitimate by getting you to visit their website. Don't! They are NOT located in your country regardless of what their website indicates. Most (but not all) are located in Asian countries where consumer protection and fraud law are not easily prosecuted.

I once told one caller that if they called back in a half-hour I'd have a website “proving” I'm the king of Siam. They never called back.

Fake Errors

One trick is to have the victim click on the Windows Key + R keyboard combination to bring up the Run command, then have them type in “msconfig” (they'll spell it out) to open System Configuration and click on the services tab:

Screen capture showing a normal Services tab in MSConfig

They scammer will point out the stopped Microsoft services, calling these “errors” and telling you that your computer is about to crash.

These stopped services are NORMAL, but most users are confused by the use of the keyboard commands and immediately feel out of their depth.

They Want You to Panic

The use of this intimidating technique is intentional. The caller wants you to panic so that you follow their advice without thinking about it.

The Use of Keyboard Combos Designed to Confuse

Now they'll get you to enter the same Windows Key + R keyboard combination, then www.google.com (which opens Google) and have you search for an older (insecure) version of TeamViewer.

This is different that the way most users would approach a search by using their mouse to open their primary browser then enter a generalized search term that would bring up a current version of TeamViewer. Again, this is intentional and designed to confuse you.

NOW They Have Access to Your Computer

When installed, this insecure (vulnerable) program will provide the caller with remote access to your computer because it lacks any of the newest security measures.

Remember, the caller has no advance information about your computer. All they have is their bag of tricks to try to scam you.

  • Never provide remote access to your computer via TeamViewer or any other product based upon a phone call, email or any unexpected popup warning on your computer.
  • Never follow instructions to navigate to folders or type any instructions via your keyboard.
  • Never provide nor confirm any personal or computer information (including passwords, software versions or serial numbers, credit card numbers, etc.).
  • Never visit websites or install software suggested by the caller.

Your best option is to hang up without saying goodbye and without following any of their instructions.

Providing Remote Access is Dangerous

Remote access or unknown software can allow the remote user to do ANYTHING on your computer, including installing nefarious software or stealing your personal information.

If you follow their advice, you'll waste your money on software that won't help protect your computer. Worse, it will likely make your computer more vulnerable and you'll become a victim of identity theft and credit card abuse for which you'll foot the bill.

Don't be a victim! Just hang up.

Cleanup is Costly

Many people of all ages have fallen for these scams, and the schemes are getting more complex. If you encounter one, don't panic. Stop and think it through.

Microsoft estimated the cost of cleaning up after a successful scam at $875.00 (and that was in 2011). More on these sites:

Don't be the next victim! Just hang up.

If You've Become a Victim

If you become a victim, it will probably take you hundreds of hours and an average of $1,000 to recover from ID theft. Even worse, some innocent victims have ended up in prison because identity thieves have committed crimes in their names. — Scambusters

If you've fallen for one of these scams, don't be embarrassed. If you were the only victim, the crooks would be out of business.

Report the Crime

However, you do need to take some immediate measures to limit the damage, starting with reporting the crime.

Have Your Computer Checked

If your computer was accessed, take your computer to a trusted computer professional to assess the damage. Service personnel can look for the signs of problems but no one can guarantee the computer is clean under these circumstances.

In some cases the computer many need to have a clean install (data backed up, operating system and software reinstalled, data restored) to ensure the computer is not infected.

Change Your Passwords

Your passwords may be compromised. Notify the companies involved and immediately change ALL your passwords.

Notify Financial Institutions and Police

If you used a credit card or provided banking details, you'll need to immediately notify those financial institutions.

Notify the police to report the potential identity theft and contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501 to report that you've probably become the victim of identity theft.

Microsoft issued a warning on tech support scams:

  • Be wary of any unsolicited phone call or pop-up message on your device.
  • Microsoft will never proactively reach out to you to provide unsolicited PC or technical support. Any communication we have with you must be initiated by you.
  • Do not call the number in a pop-up window on your device. Microsoft's error and warning messages NEVER include a phone number.
  • Never give control of your computer to a third party unless you can confirm that it is a legitimate representative of a computer support team with whom you are already a customer.
  • If skeptical, take the person's information down and immediately report it to your local authorities.

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Error Messages with Phone Numbers

NEVER call phone numbers listed in error messages. Instead call your local tech support person or hire me.

Suspicious Popups

Beware of suspicious warnings or popups on websites and on your computer.

Unexpected error messages like these or dire warnings are NEVER legitimate. They are generally malware designed to trap you into expensive service contracts that are scams.

If you're having difficulty closing a popup, see popup warnings that won't go away for solutions.

Legitimate Errors Lack Phone Numbers

Microsoft's warnings will NEVER include a phone number. Neither will Mozilla's.

If a recovery phone number is displayed, you're seeing a scam. NEVER call that number.

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Caller ID Can be Faked

The telephone Caller ID display can be faked. The number showing is no guarantee that the caller is who they say they are.

Would you allow your real number to display if you were about to steal from someone?

Unless you initiate the call AND have obtained the number from a legitimate source, you have no certainty who you're dealing with.

Never depend upon any website provided by the caller. Ensure you use the site indicated on reliable sources such as a recent invoice or billing from the company. Fake websites are common and it is easy to fake a site.

Check That Number!

Do NOT use any number provided in a suspicious email or phone call. Instead, look up the number in a statement or invoice you've received from the company or organization when doing business with them in the past.

What About Unknown Numbers

There are resources that let you check out a phone number. These services depend upon reports from people like you that may have fallen victim to the scam or are simply concerned that it may be a scam.

  • 800notes is a free reverse phone number lookup database built by its users.
  • CallerSmart is a free service (or app) that allows you to find out who called or texted you.

In many cases the scammer will fake a local or domestic number until it becomes too hot to use, then they'll switch to another. Using Internet-based phone calling, it is easy to fake any number, usually a number that appears to be local because you're more likely to answer a call from “a neighbour” than an unknown long distance number.

Always use trusted sources to obtain the telephone number or website address to contact any site requiring personal information or a password. Google is not necessarily that trusted source, especially if you click on the sponsored links.

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Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.

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RussHarvey.bc.ca/resources/phonefraud.html
Updated: October 29, 2019