Computer scam locks user’s computer and asks you to call Microsoft tech support

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BALTIMORE — A scam that mimics Microsoft customer support locks your device’s screen and asks you to call a phone number.

Everything about the warning seemed real to Trish Thomas, so she followed the instructions, even giving imposters access to her bank account. But just before she transferred money, her radar went on.

“I had already experienced at least 3, 4 of them and I don’t fall into the trap”, declared Thomas who knows better than to fall into telephone scams. But she had never seen a message like the one on her husband’s Google Chromebook supposedly from Microsoft tech support.

“He says don’t shut down your computer,” Thomas recalls. “At the bottom it said to call Microsoft support and there was a toll-free number, so I thought okay, I guess I better call.”

A man told her that there was unusual activity in her bank account. She should download AnyDesk, an application giving her access to her phone and then log into her bank account.

“He told me there was a $5,000 fee for something, and another $1,000 subscription for porn stuff, I went that’s not ours,” Thomas said.

He then asked her for the customer service number on the back of her credit card. He would call that number and connect her to the bank on a secure line.

“We actually transferred what was in my savings into my verification, we went that far and then he says well, I just want to verify your identity,” Thomas said. “He said can you take a picture of your driver’s license for me? And then a giant red flag went up towards me I said no I don’t feel comfortable doing this I can go to my bank branch tomorrow and show them my ID and they can take care of the rest. And with that, click, he hangs up.

Thomas immediately changed his login details, notified his bank, and then drove to Bel Air Computer Guy to have his devices cleaned.

“We deal with two to three scams, usually a week,” said Mike Dowell, owner of Bel Air Computer Guy.

And the one from Microsoft is very popular right now.

“There’s no X out option and then they can force any message on you that will make you pick up the phone,” Dowell said.

These fake support messages end up on your computer by clicking on malicious links.

“Clicking on a link in an email or ad that’s cleverly inserted into a webpage or something,” Dowell said.

The number has already been disconnected, but these impostors are constantly changing tactics and contact information.

Another popular phishing campaign indicates that you have been charged for subscription services that you did not sign up for.

“They say, ‘Okay, I’ll refund the $499 right away,’ but then they come in and black out the screen and they refund $50,000. They change your bank account so when you come back you say, oh my god, and then they say, ‘Oh I messed up, my manager is going to kill me, and you have to help me. You have to give me your credit card number and we’ll fix this,’ and whatever and you are involved in this big story,” Dowell said.

Dowell added that no matter how computer savvy you are, these scams can be compelling. Even he had problems thwarting cybercriminals.

“I have 32 character passwords they are crazy and encrypted and everything is nonsense and I have multi-factor authentication and someone still pulled out a Best Buy credit card in my name last year last, no idea,” Dowell said.

Dowell tells its customers never to call a number given to you. Don’t click on any suspicious links or attachments from people you don’t trust. And know that Microsoft, McAfee, Norton, and similar companies will never call you and tell you they need access to your computer.

According to FBI Internet Crime Report, losses due to tech support scams have more than doubled in one year. Americans said they lost more than $347 million in 2021.

For more information on keeping your computer safe and what to do if a tech support scammer already has your information, Click here.

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