The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


October 5, 2013

Ex-Valley computer teacher calls shyster techie’s bluff

NORTHUMBERLAND — Computers have become standard in most households and, while more people than ever are using them, most of us wouldn’t consider ourselves very technologically smart.

And when computers don’t work, users usually require an expert to fix them.

So when an expert reports that your computer is having trouble and says he can fix it, you may consider the offer. When that expert reaches you by phone, says he’s with computer-giant Microsoft and then “proves” you have computer problems, you may be convinced he’s the real deal and not out to scam you.

You would be wrong. The fake Microsoft technicians making the current round of phone calls offering to fix your computers remotely have just stepped up their game and if you aren’t careful, you could become their next victim.

Recently, Philip Hallden’s wife was the one who received a couple of calls from “a tech from Microsoft”  with a foreign accent who told her Microsoft was “getting messages” there were problems with the Halldens’ computer and he’d “like to help correct it.” She told the caller he’d have to talk to her husband because “he handles all that.”

Philip Hallden does indeed. A retired teacher from the Line Mountain School District, Hallden taught computer classes and understands how computers work, and don’t work.

Hallden, of Northumberland, took the phone call. Though their phone number is listed on the national Do Not Call list, unwanted calls still get through. Generally, Hallden, 68, deals with them this way: “I’ll say, ‘Oh sure, hang on’ and then I’ll put the phone down and walk away for as long as I please,” he said. “That way, I’ve taken up their time — and their dollars — as they’ve tried to take up mine.”

The caller asked Hallden to turn on his computer so the problem could be verified and fixed. While Hallden obliged, he also turned off his modem and WiFi, disconnecting his system from the Internet to stop any outside flow of information that might stream into his computer.

Then he had a little fun with the “Microsoft tech.”

“His pitch was that a specific number, listing my computer, was coming to him at Microsoft and he would be able to help me clear (the problem) out and stop it from happening in the future,” Hallden said. This is where the average, non-technological computer user might bite the hook. Here’s what the fake tech told Hallden to do: Go to START, then click on RUN and type in “CMD” then hit OK. Next, he told Hallden to type in “Assoc” and near the bottom of a long list of files he would find the “special number” the scammer said was coming up on his screen at Microsoft.

“He assured me this was a special number, just for my computer, and it told Microsoft I had errors in my computer,” Hallden said.

That “special number”  Hallden found is not special at all. “This same number will come up in all computers, I think. At least it did on both of my computers,” he said. It also came up on The Daily Item’s computer when we copied the same procedure.

The “tech” then had Hallden go to a system information screen where it showed “all the happenings logged on my computer and yes, there were some events that were listed as ‘errors,’” Hallden said.  

“But what computer doesn’t have problems? The older it is, the more often errors occur and the more often you have to reboot to clear up the errors.”

Next came the sales pitch. “He told me what the cost would be to clean the computer and what a yearly membership would be, and even how much a multiple-year membership would cost,” Hallden said. “I don’t know the exact pricing but I think it ranged from $79.95 to about $159.95.”

All Hallden had to do was provide credit card information.

By now, Hallden had been on the phone for about 20 minutes. “Still playing along with him, I told him I thought (a membership) would be worthwhile. Then I asked for his name, phone number and physical mailing address. He asked why I wanted that information and I said if he worked for a reputable company, there should be no problem supplying it to me,” Hallden said.

“At this point, he hung up on me.”

Hallden hopes his experience will help others from falling victim to the scam. “The fact I knew what he was shooting for … I could see people falling for this,” he said.

Microsoft, or any other legitimate computer company, will not call to inform you of problems on your computer or offer to fix them remotely. The best advice is to hang up before a stranger convinces you with “evidence.”

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