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Microsoft warns on SA phone scam

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Microsoft has warned South African consumers to be wary of a phone scam that has left some victims hundreds of rands out of pocket.

Microsoft South Africa’s chief security advisor, Dr Khomotso Kganyago, says scammers are using several well-known brands, including Microsoft, to fool people into believing that something is wrong with their computers.

The scam typically unfolds in the following manner:

* A cold caller, claiming to be a representative of Microsoft, one of its brands or a third party contracted by Microsoft, tells the victim they are checking into a computer problem, infection or virus that has been detected by Microsoft.

* They will trick consumers into installing malicious software that could capture sensitive data, such as online banking user names and passwords. They might also then charge them for the removal of this software.

* They tell the victim they can help and direct them to a website that then allows the scammers to take control of the computer remotely, adjusting the settings and leaving the computer vulnerable.

* The cold caller will then spend some time on the computer trying to demonstrate where the ‘problems’ are and in the process convinces the victim to pay a fee for a service that will fix the computer.

Cybercriminals often use public phone directories to harvest consumer names and personal information, thereby garnering consumer trust in the sheer level of knowledge they appear to offer about them. These callers claim to be from Windows Helpdesk, Windows Service Centre, Microsoft Tech Support, Microsoft Support, Windows Technical Department Support Group and even Microsoft’s Research and Development Team.

“In reality, there is nothing wrong with these computers but the scammer has tricked the consumer into believing there is a problem and that paying the fee is the best way to get it fixed. Often they will also push the customer to buy a one year computer maintenance subscription.  They are just trying to steal money from innocent people,” says Dr Kganyago.

He adds that the callers present themselves in a professional manner and sound genuine.

“Don’t be fooled, it is not practice at Microsoft to cold call consumers in regards to malfunctioning PCs or viruses,” he said. “In the rare instance where Microsoft might contact consumers directly, the caller will be able to verify the existence of a current customer relationship.”

He says a few basic pieces of advice can help South African consumers from being taken in by this and other scams:

* Do not purchase software or services over the telephone.

* If there is a fee associated with the service, hang up.

* Consumers should never authorise remote control over a computer to a third party unless they can confirm that they are legitimate representatives of a computer support team with whom they are already a customer.

* Take the caller’s information and report them to the South African Police Services (08600 10111) immediately.

* Never provide credit card or financial information to someone claiming to be from Microsoft tech support.

If consumers fear they may already have been scammed, they should:

* Change the computer password, change the email password and change the password for any financial accounts (including bank and credit cards);

* Scan their computer to find out if they have malware installed;

* Keep an eye on bank accounts and report any potentially fraudulent activities immediately;

* Ensure the operating system is full updated and that all security updates are installed; and

* Make sure the system is protected with strong passwords that are changed regularly.