Once they’ve gently guided you through several processes on your system, which – horror upon horror – confirm how infected it is, it emerges a warranty has expired, which only a “technician” can renew it for you.
“This is bad. But I can transfer you to a technician who’ll fix it for you for only US$299, which will secure your computer for good.”
The “technician” helps you download software that allows him to control your computer remotely. Thereafter, enter your personal information, including bank details, make a PayPal payment, and voilà, the warranty is renewed, your system is free of problems you never knew you had and your bank account is free of funds you knew, minutes ago, you had. (There are variations of the scam. The results are the same.)
I’ve been getting calls from these scammers periodically for five years. Earlier this year however, they stepped up their campaign and, since then, I’ve been getting as many as two calls a week. I am, it seems, a platinum card carrying customer. The increased attention coincided with frequent ringing of my phone from numbers unknown or withheld. No one answers when I pick up. My theory is the calls come from an automated system that dials random numbers, registers when someone answers and flags the number for Scamsters-R-Us HQ.
I’ve tried several techniques to convince them to stop calling. I regularly hang up immediately. “Please remove me from your database,” I’ve requested politely. I told one I was busy so would immediately I’d give her my bank details to save us both time. “Thank you,” she said happily, before carefully noting my personal information at “Ponzi Bank”. I put on a breathy, Marilyn Monroe voice and told another, “Ooh! A virus! It’s been a while! I know; I’ll show you my bank account details if you show me yours.”
Two weeks ago however, when I heard the familiar whirr of the international connection and, “Hello, this is Andrew Jones from Microsoft security”, I was feeling neither courteous nor funny, and responded with a series of porcine grunts. It didn’t take “Andrew” long to catch on. “F*@k off!” he screamed loudly, before hanging up. This coincided with news from my mother that one of her elderly friends had almost fallen victim to the scam. (She was saved by the fact that her husband “who has the bank details” was out at the time of the call.)
So, the gloves came off and when, a few days later, “Paul Neil of Windows tech support” called, I was ready with a whistle from my days as a hockey coach. I let rip. The calls have stopped and I’m hoping my platinum status has been revoked.
(This article was first published as my technology column in Business Day in 2013.)