Calling Tech Support (Or Tech Support Calling You)

“A computer will do what you tell it to do, but that may be much different than what you had in mind.” Joseph Weizenbaum

Have you ever called a particular company, looking for some tech support, and wound up getting transferred to a Microsoft Certified Support Technician?  It’s a very common, ever evolving scam and you’re not alone.

In our area, Time Warner is the most common internet service provider. Customers have reported placing calls to them for help due to internet issues, then, during the process, they were transferred to a Microsoft Technician.  (Now, before anyone thinks I’m picking on Time Warner here, let me add that the same scam attempt has been reported via Hewlett Packard, Brother Printers, Linksys/Cisco, AOL, Yahoo and several others.)  In each case, the Microsoft Tech requests to make a remote connection into the caller’s system, tinkers around a bit, and presents a long list of “problems” they found. Reports have varied on the prices they requested to fix the “problems”, and we’ve heard anywhere between $90.00 and a whopping $499.00.

Fortunately, most people don’t fall prey to the scammers and begin to question why, when their problem had to do with a printer or router function, their email, or some other unrelated issue, they end up speaking with Microsoft. But, because there is some truth in what P.T. Barnum supposedly said, some do fall for the scam, and apparently often enough to make it profitable for the bad guys.

The larger issue here, in my opinion, is “How does this happen?”.  Most skeptics would assume that these companies have unscrupulous call takers, who ultimately transfer their calls to their equally unscrupulous buddies running the scam. While possible, that’s not likely given the vast numbers involved here.  In reality, consumers end up calling spoofed or fake numbers when seeking support. In most cases, we rely on web searches for tech support phone numbers. (Does anyone still use a phone book?)  It’s not difficult to get a list of fake phone numbers onto a web search. And here is where these companies bear some responsibility.  Ever try to find a contact number on some of their web sites? More often than not, their “Contact Us” pages will contain a form to be sent, to which they may, or may not respond within 5 business days. And that doesn’t help you figure out why your brand new &%^&*# printer keeps spitting out blank pages as you try to print your e-tickets for tomorrows business trip.

I once had the opportunity to speak with a service tech from AOL on behalf of a customer. (Yes, a few do still use AOL software).  Earlier in the day, this customer had called AOL support, at a number he found with a search via AOL search, and was subsequently transferred to a scammer.  I ended up with a different support person when I called, but when I explained my customer’s situation, she not only stated that my customer would never be transferred to Microsoft, but, she also claimed to never have heard of this type of scam.  I can’t imagine anyone working in the technology field, even an AOL employee, who has “never heard” of the infamous Microsoft Support Technician Scam.

But then again, I am a bit of a skeptic.

The other way this scam works is by cold calling on the part of the bad guys.  In that case, the caller claims to be a Microsoft Support Technician and tells me they have identified problems on my computer. Of course, I’m honored that they would take time out of their busy schedule to work on my problems. I agree to allow a remote connection into my machine, they tinker around a bit and then show me a long list of “bad things” they’ve found running, all of which are legitimate processes, and for a mere <insert dollar amount here> (credit cards only, thank you), they’ll clean everything up and my computer will be good as new.

Now, if I’ve fallen for these scams, not only do I have to haggle with my credit card company to either stop the payment or get reimbursed, but since the scammers now have my credit card information, a new card is in order also.

Understand this:   No legitimate call center employee, from any tech company, should be transferring your call to Microsoft. And, Microsoft will never call you. Ever.

You’ll know if you’re ever speaking to a real Microsoft employee. If you mention problems with their products (any version), they’ll tell you they have the best operating system in the world and accuse you of being an Apple “Fanboy”.

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