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Microsoft Warns of Internet Phone Scam

Scammers call your house posing as computer security pros and claim that you're at risk for a computer security threat

Microsoft is warning about a new Internet phone scam that could cost you $875 in stolen money and as much as $4,800 in computer repair bills to undo the damage.

Here's how the scam works:

Scammers call your house and ask for you by name posing as computer security pros from legitimate companies. The fake security experts claim that you're at risk for a computer security threat and offer to help you solve the problem. The criminals then ask you to perform a variety of tasks to help combat the bogus threat such as giving the thieves remote access to your computer, tricking you into downloading malware, and even asking for your credit card information.

The scammers appear to be targeting people in English-speaking countries including the United States, Canada, Ireland and the U.K. Microsoft called 7,000 computer users in these four countries to see how widespread the emerging scam was. So far around 15 percent of those surveyed had received a call, according to Microsoft.

The good news is only 3 percent of those surveyed fell for the scam, but those who did fall victim usually paid a hefty price. The vast majority of those deceived (79 percent) suffered some kind of financial loss including money taken from their bank and credit card accounts, compromised passwords and identity fraud. Average financial losses ranged from $82 in Ireland to as much as $1,560 in Canada.

More than half of those surveyed also said they suffered subsequent computer problems, costing users in the US an average of $4,800 to repair their PCs.

If you receive a call from someone claiming to want to help you fix your computer, Microsoft offers the following advice:

  • Be wary of unsolicited calls related to a security problem, even if they claim to represent a respected company.
  • Never provide personal information, such as credit card or bank details, to an unsolicited caller.
  • Do not go to a website, type anything into a computer, install software or follow any other instruction from someone who calls out of the blue.
  • Take the caller's information down and report it to the police.
  • Ensure you have the latest security updates for Windows and all programs running on your PC.
  • Always use a strong, unique password and change it regularly

[See PCWorld's "How to Protect Your Online Passwords" and "Practice Good Online Password Security" for tips on best practices for password security]

  • Keep your firewall turned on and run an up-to-date antivirus program.

[PCWorld has a list of the top 5 free anti-virus programs for 2011.]

If you think you may have already fallen victim to this scam, Microsoft advises you to change the passwords on your computer, main e-mail account, and your bank and credit card accounts. Then scan your computer's hard drive for malware using your antivirus program or Microsoft's free Safety Scanner. You should also contact your financial institutions to warn them about potential suspicious activity on your accounts.

While the phone scam is currently hitting English speakers, Microsoft expects this scam to global once the scammers acquire skills in other languages.

Connect with Ian Paul ( @ianpaul ) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.


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