Tale as Old as Time: Don’t Talk To Strangers

Sunday, April 1, 2012 Posted by Corey Harrell
I was enjoying my Saturday afternoon doing various things around the house. My phone started ringing the caller ID showed it was from out of the area. I usually ignore these types of calls, but I answered this time because I didn’t want the ringing to wake my boys up from their nap. Dealing with a telemarketer is a lot easier than two sleep deprived kids.

Initially when I answered there was a few seconds of silence---then the line started ringing. My thought was “wait a minute, who is calling who here.” A female voice with a heavy accent picked up the phone; I immediately got flashbacks from my days dealing with foreign call centers when I worked in technical support. Then our conversation started:

Me: “Hello”
Female Stranger: “Is this Corey Harrell?”
Me: “Yes … who’s calling?”
Female Stranger: “This is Christina from Microsoft Software Maintenance Department calling about an issue with your computer. Viruses can be installed on computers without you knowing about it.”
Me: “What company are you with again?”
Female Stranger said something that sounded like “Esolvint”
Me in a very concerned tone: “Are you saying people can infect my computer without me even knowing it?”
Female Stranger: “Yes and your computer is infected.”

I knew immediately this was a telephone technical support scam, but I stayed on the line and pretended I knew nothing because I wanted to get first-hand experience about how these criminals operate. Conversation continued:

Female Stranger: “Are you at your computer?”
Me: “Yes”
Female Stranger: “Can you click the Start button then Run”
Me: “Okay …. The Start button then what? Something called Run”
Female Stranger: “What do you see?"
Me: “A box”
Female Stranger: “What kind of box”
Me: “A box that says Open With”
Female Stranger: “What do you see in the Open With path?”
Me: “Nothing” (At this point I had to withhold what I saw because then she might be on to me.)
Female Stranger: “You need to open the Event viewer to see your computer is infected”
Female Stranger: “Can you type in e-v-e-n-t-v-w-r”
Me: “I just typed in e-v-e-n-t-v-w-r”
Female Stranger: “Can you spell what is showing in the Open with path”
Me: “Eventvwr”
Female Stranger: “Can you spell what is showing in the Open with path”

The Female Stranger was taking too long to get to her point. I knew she was trying to get me to locate an error…any kind of error on my computer…to convince me my computer was infected and then from there she would walk me through steps to either give her remote access to my computer, actually infect my computer with a real virus or try to get my credit card information. I ran out of patience and changed the tone of the conversation.

Me: “Why are you trying to get me to access the Windows event viewer if you are saying I’m infected? The only thing in the Event viewer showing my computer was infected would be from an antivirus program but my computer doesn’t have any installed. The event viewer won’t show that my computer is infected”
Female Stranger sticking to the script: “You need to access the event viewer ….”
Me (as I rudely cut her off): “You can stop following your script now”
Female Stranger: complete silence
Me: “I know your scam and I know you are trying to get me to either infect my computer or give you remote access to my computer….”

She then hung up. I believe she knew I was on to her. It’s unfortunate since I wish she had heard everything I had to say about how I feel about people like her who try to take advantage of others. My guess is she wouldn’t care and just moved onto the next potential victim. Could that victim be you?

I’m sharing this cautionary tale so others remember the tale as old as time…”Don’t Talk To Strangers.” Especially when it comes to your private information….especially in the cyber world. Companies will not call you about some issue with your computer. Technical support will not contact you out of the blue knowing your computer is infected (unless it’s your help desk at work). Heck … even your neighborhood Geek won’t call you knowing there is something wrong with your computer.

If someone does then it’s a scam. Plain and simple some criminal is trying to trick you into giving them something. It might be to get you to infect your computer, give them access to your computer, or provide them with your credit card information. The next time you pick up a phone and someone on the other end says there is an issue with your computer let your spidey sense kick in and HANG UP.

Information about this type of scam is discussed in more detail at:

* Microsoft’s article Avoid Tech Support Phone Scams

* Sophos’ article Canadians Increasingly Defrauded by Fake Tech Support Phone Calls

* The Guardian’s article Virus Phone Scam Being Run from Call Centers in India

Updated links courtesy of Claus from Grand Stream Dreams:

Troy Hunt's Scamming the scammers – catching the virus call centre scammers red-handed

Troy Hunt's Anatomy of a virus call centre scam

I reposted my Everyday Cyber Security Facebook page article about my experience to reach a broader audience to warn others. The writing style is drastically different then what my blog readers are accustomed. My wife even edits the articles to make sure they are understandable and useful to the average person.
  1. Great post Cory!

    I always planned I would tell them I was running BackTrack and where do I find "Windows" on it were I to get such a call... ;)

    Your post reminded me of some very detailed blogging work I found recently from Troy Hunt on the same subject. It is excellent and you might want to include these nuggets in your post linkage.

    Scamming the scammers – catching the virus call centre scammers red-handed - Troy Hunt.

    Anatomy of a virus call centre scam - Troy Hunt.

    These scams are easy for the security-minded to catch right-off but can be very disturbing for more regular PC users. The talk is "techy" enough to sound legit but the results if followed can leave a horribly sour taste in your mouth...particularly if you have to clean up the mess left when a friend or relative calls you for a second opinion long-after they have took the bait.

    Great reminder.


    Claus V.

  2. As a kid, my folks taught me that if I'm calling someone, when they answer, I should identify myself.

    Today, many people older than me think that either I'm psychic, or I already have their name and number in my cell phone. What's worse is when I give them my home number, specifying that it's a home number (and NOT a cell) and they still think it's a cell.

    Whenever someone calls me and immediately asks for anyone in my home, I halt the conversation and have them ID themselves. If the call's legit, there's no reason why they shouldn't do that anyway. If it's not legit, I usually ask them for their home number so that I can call them at the least convenient time possible.

  3. Every night when I get home I have at least two missed calls on my home phone from either "International" or "Withheld"

    I was working from home one day last week and got one of the calls, from a similar scammer speaking bad English. She (is it always female?) loved my innocence at first but when I started dropping some tech terms into the conversation she soon hung up.

    Its completely scary though that less 'informed' people can and are tempted to get sucked right in there.

    Parasites, hate 'em

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