On Saturday I had a call from a tech support help desk,
apparently in India. It seems my ISP had noticed my PC was showing a
lot of virus activity and had asked them to help me sort it out. Which
was nice of them.
"Which ISP was that?" I asked.
"Your ISP, sir."
"Yes but who are they?"
"Your ISP sir. For your internet."
"Yes, but what is the name of my ISP?"
"Your ISP sir. For your internet. They asked us to ..."
Clearly my asking questions wasn't part of the poor fool's script, so I
played along, curious to discover the real nature of what was obviously
a scam. In the meantime -- since I only keep a Windows system for
benighted clients who insist on using it -- I dusted off my laptop and
got it going.
"Oh my god, oh my god ...!"
Tech Support had me start up the Event Viewer and check the System and
Event logs. Did I see any warnings or errors? Well of course I did,
this is Windows! (I should add for the uninitiated that looking at
these logs is the magician's equivalent of allowing a mark to inspect a
stacked deck. Windows throws out so many warnings and errors in the
normal course of running that the whole logging system is virtually
"Oh dear sir, it looks like you have very, very serious infection. Let
me pass you to a senior technician."
This is a standard cold calling procedure. Armies of low paid drones
weed out potential targets by ploughing through phone books and
reciting from scripts, then, when they finally find a sap, they pass
them on to a "closer", someone higher up the food chain who will put
the squeeze on them, in this case a "Microsoft Certified Technician".
MSTech directed me to the System Properties menu and had me record the
last six digits of my registration code. Then he directed me to
logmein123.com and had me enter those six digits -- which I did via my
The error message that was returned said"Code does not exist. Please
contact your support provider."
MSTech: "Oh my god, oh my god!" (He actually said that.) "Your
operating system support has expired and you now have a very serious
infection sir. But I can help you ...
It’s worth pausing a moment to consider this. It’s all baloney of
course, but imagine if it wasn’t. Using a six-digit number to identify
the validity of your license or support implies that Microsoft sold no
more than 999,999 copies of Windows. If they did, the clock would click
back to zero and there’d be no way of uniquely identifying who was
valid any more.
But I digress ...
MSTech’s help involved providing me with a new secret support number
for logmein123.com, (it was 537943, but don’t tell anyone!), and
clicking Connect to Technician.
I mistyped it a couple of times to give myself a chance to explore
LogMeIn a little further. It's actually a genuine website. On entry of
a subscriber’s code, you get to download and run a piece of software
that gives the other party remote access to your PC. A useful tool for
genuine tech support, but not
for an unsolicited call from what
appeared to be India!
If I was a dumb user before, I started playing dumber. ”What was that
number again? ... Oh, I clicked Save instead of Run ... It doesn’t seem
to work any more."
He got me another number (385976). I kept mistyping it. ”Nope, doesn’t
work." He got me a third (965854). I bungled that too, curious to see
where that would lead.
He directed me instead to another site, ammyy.com, which operates on a
Make way for more bungling ...
More bungling from yours truly. ”Wow, nothing’s working. You must be
right about that infection" but I no longer had his full attention. He
kept putting me on hold to deal with more cooperative suckers. I was
getting bored too, and when he directed me back to logmein123.com
(”We’ve already been there") and gave me yet another six-digit number
(which I didn’t even bother to record), I told him, ”Are you sure your
machine’s are working properly? Perhaps you
should call tech support,"
and hung up.
So what’s the deal here? Where’s the con? While MSTech had me on hold,
I did some googling. DigitalToast
have a complete breakdown, with links to recordings, videos,
transcripts and everything. What apparently happens once you give them
remote control of your PC is that they muck around with it for 20
minutes (while you watch) then charge you for the ”service" and
”upgrade" - a mere £185 in the UK!
A few months ago the Guardian
that ”nineteen websites which were used to perpetrate a
phone scam offering ‘computer support’ that defrauded people across the
English-speaking world have been closed down by police." Obviously
something that lucrative was bound to pop up again. The same con has
been reported - as the article said - ”across the English-speaking
receive a call from tech support claiming your machine’s full
of viruses, just tell them, ”That’s most unlikely. I