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Global action busts scammers posing as Microsoft

Media release 71/2012 – 4 October

Joint action between three international regulators has thwarted a massive global phone scam, with US authorities this week winning court orders to close down and freeze funds of imposters posing as Microsoft employees offering to fix PC viruses.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA), the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) collaborated to share key intelligence about the operations of the Microsoft imposters.

The ACMA first became aware of what has been dubbed the 'Microsoft imposter' scam in 2009, after its Do Not Call Register (DNCR) received complaints from registrants.

The ACMA passed this information to the FTC, which this week successfully won court orders against US-based parties alleged to be linked to these scams. Details of the scams and breaches were revealed today in a joint media conference in Washington DC. This included action by the CRTC.

‘The message for scammers is they cannot use the global and borderless world of communications to avoid laws that protect Australians against scams. With new scams appearing more frequently, our citizens need to be vigilant and not respond to insidious trickery,’ ACMA Chairman, Chris Chapman said at the conference via video hook-up.

‘We are committed to continuing to work with our fellow regulators to stop scams, spam and unwanted telemarketing,’ he said.

To help citizens combat scammers, the ACMA has today released an infographic showing four basic steps to ‘Outsmart the scammers’.

‘The best way for people to protect themselves from these types of scam calls is to simply hang up and never give an unsolicited caller access to their computer or their credit card details,’ Mr Chapman said.

Australia was one of the first targets of this scam which subsequently spread to other countries. For three years, the ACMA has been tracking the ‘Microsoft Imposter’ scammers and working with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the FTC.

The scam generated nearly 10,000 calls to the Do Not Call complaint line over the past two years, and at its peak was about 50 per cent of all reports.

While the DNCR is successful in reducing the number of unwanted telemarketing calls from legitimate businesses; scammers are not legitimate and the ACMA liaises closely with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and international regulators to help combat this increasing global problem.

Australians can list their phone number with the Do Not Call Register by calling 1300 792 958 or at www.donotcall.gov.au

Since its inception in 2007, nearly eight million numbers have been registered.

See below for Anatomy of a scam. A webcast of the joint conference is now available and further information is available on the ACMA’s Engage website.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Emma Rossi, Media Manager, (02) 9334 7719 and 0434 652 063 or media@acma.gov.au.



Anatomy of a scam

The Microsoft Imposters scam is one of the biggest phone scams of recent times—both in Australia and globally. But how did it actually work? How could citizens be caught out this way? Here’s how it unfolded.

The scam begins …

Imagine you receive a call at home. The caller claims they are from (or have a relationship with) Windows or Microsoft, and have detected a virus or ‘issues’ with your computer. You might be asked: ‘Has your computer been running slowly lately?’ You’re then told that viruses or malware have been inadvertently downloaded onto your computer while you’ve been using the internet.

The scammer shows ‘proof’

You’re now concerned that your computer has been compromised. To confirm the diagnosis, the caller asks you to open Windows Event Viewer on your machine to check if it is infected. Several error messages are listed and this reinforces their claims, even though errors are common and usually harmless. The caller tells you that these are of significant concern and offers to refer you to a ‘technician’ who could fix the problem—for a fee.

You’re transferred to a ‘technician’ who asks you to log on to a third-party website so they can remotely access your computer to fix the problem.

Sounds feasible, right?

Enter the scam

At this point, you’re offered a number of solutions that seem to make perfect sense. Depending on the intent of the particular scammer involved, the ‘technician’ might:

  1. Install an antivirus program on your computer—typically the kind that you can download for free from reputable companies—and charge up to $250 for the service.

  2. Ask for your credit card details but install nothing. Your details might then be sold to other parties or used for fraudulent purposes.

  3. Install malware on your computer—this enables your computer to be controlled remotely for other illegal and harmful activities.

  4. Access and steal personal and financial details from your computer.

And, hey presto—you’ve been scammed.

And it doesn’t end there

As public awareness of the scam has grown, some people have reported a further twist. After receiving a Microsoft Imposter call, a new caller will falsely claim to be from a foreign government, foreign law enforcement body or your bank, and offer to recover money initially lost in the scam—again, in return for a fee.

Outsmarting the scammers

In a world of global and borderless communications, these kinds of scams will only become more common. In response, government agencies in different countries are working together across borders to tackle these global problems. However, it’s also important that you’re aware of some basic tips to avoid becoming a victim.

  1. Suspect: Don’t accept anything at face value—if it sounds unlikely or too good to be true, it probably is.

  2. Think: Recognise the signs—if you’re being pressured to act, disclose personal details or send money to a stranger, it’s almost certainly a scam. For example, Microsoft never makes unsolicited phone calls about its products.

  3. Report: Act quickly—tell SCAMwatch and stop scammers in their tracks.

  4. Ignore: Never respond. Just hang up, or delete the SMS or email after reporting.

You can report scams to www.scamwatch.gov.au or by calling 1300 795 995.

Last updated: 28 July 2016

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