Explained: My PC is Infected / Locked, has 1-800 Number. Is it a Scam?

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader "AJ" writes:

" Dear Dennis,

After having a conversation with Microsoft tech support yesterday, I realized that I was scammed. I took necessary steps to cancel credit card. I do not do business on my machine - just communication with friends, etc. I do see that the techs that took my money have done some work on my computer and it seems to run a lot better. Question: is it still harmful to leave my computer as-is, or should I hire another tech to clean my machine again? The people that took my money also gave me their phone numbers so that I can be in contact with them at any time. Could this be legit? "

My response:

Let me see if I can guess how you were scammed, as you did not say:

I'm guessing that you were visiting a web page on the Internet, then out of the blue you received a "warning" message stating your computer was infected. Your computer also - very conveniently - provided a 1-800 phone number to call to clean the "infection". Despite your best judgment, you called the 1-800 number and spoke to a guy who most likely has an Indian accent, who then referred you to another nice fellow in another country who then "fixed" your computer for an obscene amount of money (usually $300 or so). They then followed up with a phone call to make sure everything is fine.

Does that sound familiar? If so, you were scammed - please cancel your credit card immediately. If you do business with these people again, then you are crazy - no matter how nice they were to you, or how much "faster" your computer is running. The fact is, you fell for a scam and they preyed upon your ignorance (I'm sorry to say), and they will surely scam you again.

The exact same scam happened to my wife's co-worker just last week. She is in the same boat as you, thinking that the scammers were so nice to provide a follow up call, and her system is running better than it ever was. The fact is though, she was scammed - and the scammers have her credit card number and personal information which they can then sell to other scammers.

You've Been Scammed: Should You Hire Another Tech?

Should you hire another yet another tech to investigate / clean your machine after you hired scammers to "fix" your machine?

Yes, absolutely! Oftentimes scammers will install bogus security software on your machine that will (at some point) pop up with a message saying your computer is infected (again!) and you need to buy some other software program to fix it. Yet another scam!

Or, as I have seen many times - they will leave the remote connection software they used to connect to you active, which means they can reconnect and/or monitor your activity any time the see fit. If the system is being monitored, that means they can potentially record key strokes (and sniff passwords) and/or watch whatever it is you're doing by remote. That also means it's possible they could be waiting for you to access your online bank account or PayPal account, so they can steal that information and possibly empty out your accounts. The list goes on.

Other Variations of the Same Scam

Other variations of this scam are: you downloaded and ran a program, and then your screen became locked and the computer says you need to call a 1-800 number to unlock the system. Or, suddenly you see a "blue screen of death" which also presents a 1-800 number for you to call to fix the problem. Or, a "Microsoft tech support" representative calls you UNSOLICITED, and says your computer has a virus. Or, you visited a page online and your Internet Service Provider says your computer is infected and you need to call a 1-800 number to fix it.

The moral of the story is: if you ever have a warning message / "problem" with your computer and if the computer also gives you a phone number to call to "fix" the problem, it is 100% undoubtedly a scam. Or, if someone calls you * UNSOLICITED * and tells you that your computer is infected / needs fixing, it's a scam! Don't fall for it!

"AJ" wrote back to confirm that what I said was 100% accurate, and that she won't be calling the scammers for "help" any time soon.

Additional 1-on-1 Support: From Dennis

If you think you've been scammed, I can help. Simply send me a message briefly describing your situation, and I will get back to you as soon as possible. If you've already been scammed and need me to investigate your PC to ensure that the scammers didn't install malware or are otherwise spying on you, I can also assist you by remote. Feel free to review my credentials online if you like, then send me an email briefly describing your problem, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

Got a Computer Question or Problem? Ask Dennis!

I need more computer questions. If you have a computer question - or even a computer problem that needs fixing - please email me with your question so that I can write more articles like this one. I can't promise I'll respond to all the messages I receive (depending on the volume), but I'll do my best.

About the author: Dennis Faas is the owner and operator of Infopackets.com. With over 30 years of computing experience, Dennis' areas of expertise are a broad range and include PC hardware, Microsoft Windows, Linux, network administration, and virtualization. Dennis holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Science (1999) and has authored 6 books on the topics of MS Windows and PC Security. If you like the advice you received on this page, please up-vote / Like this page and share it with friends. For technical support inquiries, Dennis can be reached via Live chat online this site using the Zopim Chat service (currently located at the bottom left of the screen); optionally, you can contact Dennis through the website contact form.

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ConnieB's picture

Great article, Dennis! Thank you.

MONSTERTEK's picture

If you ever get on of these unsolicited calls telling you your computer is infected and needs their service, do like I do. Keep them on the line, act stupid, tell them stories about your grandchildren, explain you know nothing about computers, just keep them on the line. Time is money to these thieves, I kept one talking for about 45 minutes! Not only are you making it less profitable for them, you are helping other not as aware people by tYing up their resources. Never, never, never let someone you don't know or someone you haven't invited in to your house OR your computer.

Boots66's picture

Hi Dennis - Yes I think you touched base on all of the ones that have the audacity to call our house as well - but we don't get calls too much any more - My first method was to talk to them briefly - that was useless - Next time was to simply hang up once they had identified themselves - that too was useless and then I tried the above of talk for a bit then set the phone down on the table and walk away for a bit BUT....

The best method to stop these idiots calling and it only took two runs of some poor sap calling our number and having him ignore my warning that I was going to scream his ear off - I did and they haven't called back! Next time it could be one of those canned horns that you hear at the hockey games.
These guys have to get the message that if they call and you request that they don't call back, that they should honour your wishes, or the response to them is wide open to anything

f58tammy's picture

This you tuber Jerry of Barnacules Nerdgasm was a employee for Microsoft and made a video of his call with one of these scammers. It is 33min. long and I think is funny to watch as he makes the guy escalate it to his supervisor.


aquaman100_2510's picture

A while ago I received calls from "Microsoft" that my computer was spreading virus's and they needed access to my computer to removed the infection for a fee. I asked the "agent" for the Microsoft key for my O/S He stated that if I would just follow his prompts he would give me the information I requested. I just fumbled along telling my wife to watch this for a good laugh. I would just about get through the sequence when I would get called away for a few minutes and would have to start over again. Finally after 30 minutes I said I was just TOO Busy and to call back tomorrow, the clowns did and just fumbled around again to be called away and returning 45 min later to tell him he was tying up a "Business Line" and to have a supervisor call me back in "OFF BUSINESS" hours. Third call in three days the "Supervisor" called with visions off cleaning an entire business system of many computer stations when I informed him the entire process was being monitored by the police who were tracing the calls. Bang went the phone and have not been bothered since.
On a positive note I did talk recently with the REAL Microsoft to have my windows key transferred to a rebuild I had to do due to a mobo failure. The process was painless and very fast and I was very confident with giving the access to my computer because I was the one contacting Microsoft not the other way round.

matt_2058's picture

I haven't had computer scammers call, but have had calls for a few other types of scams. I keep a coach's whistle handy.