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Microsoft rings alarm bell on fake Windows support calls

June 16, 2011 03:52 PM ET

Those scams, often dubbed "scareware" or "rogueware," use higher-volume methods -- poisoned search results and spam email -- to trick users into visiting malicious sites that proclaim a PC or Mac is heavily infected. Users are encouraged to download security software to fix the nonexistent problems, but to get rid of the resulting bogus alerts, victims must fork over fees that can reach $80.

Mac users were hit by several scareware campaigns last month, the first time they had been targeted by such scams.

Fossi put the telemarketing tactic in context.

"Fake AV is a much bigger problem than this," Fossi said. "This sounds like a pretty low rate of return on investment [for the criminals] because of the time commitment to do this. But maybe they're getting a higher success rate because [the victim] is actually talking to a real person. Some probably think, 'Why would they take the time to call if there wasn't a problem?'"

Traditional security software won't help users deflect phone calls from fake support technicians, Fossi acknowledged. "It's social engineering, so the only thing you can do is try to educate people," he said.

Microsoft urged Windows users to "be suspicious of unsolicited calls related to a security problem, even if they claim to represent a respected company," and gave other common sense advice, such as to never divulge credit card or bank account information to out-of-the-blue callers.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed Keizer RSS. His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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