Windows users targeted by fraudulent phone calls in Belgium
Con artists claiming to be from Microsoft have succeeded in taking control of private computers.
The Federal Police have warned consumers to be on their guard.
A call in English, supposedly from a Microsoft call center confirming that your computer is infected by a virus? Recognizing these clues could save you from becoming the victim of a scam, because hidden behind the call offering you a service "protecting" your PC lies a cyber-criminal group whose ultimate aim is to extort unsuspecting consumers.
"This type of embezzlement has already been observed in other countries, and an initial wave hit Belgium a year and a half ago," explains Bruno Schroder, head of technology at Microsoft Belgium. "But over the last ten days or so, we've noticed a large increase in the number of affected individuals." The Federal Police's Computer Crime Unit (FCCU) has therefore asked the software manufacturer to assist it in making as many people as possible aware of the risks of being cheated.
The cyber-pirates make use of various methods. After posing a few questions that enable them to ascertain the user's level of IT knowledge and the type of computer involved, the fake call center representative explains to the potential victim that a problem has been detected, encouraging him or her to upgrade to Windows 8.1 via a previous version of the operating system.
Or, alternatively, they confirm that a virus has been discovered on the user's system and offer to destroy it. "Whatever technique is used, the ultimate aim is to convince the individual to connect to a website featuring an online tool that can test his or her computer," continues Schroder. From that point onward, it is possible for the scammers to exploit a loophole in the system in order to implant some malicious software.
Subsequently, the victim is offered the possibility of having the virus removed remotely or to upgrade to a newer version of Windows for a sum described as "modest" (€100). Many consumers have gone ahead with the transaction so far; some, completely unaware that they have been swindled, have even thanked Microsoft for the quality of their "repair service"!
The Federal Judicial Police have advised Belgians to, upon receiving such a call, hang up immediately and to never follow the "recommended" instructions given by the crooks. They have also stressed that no sensitive information like user names, passwords or credit card details should ever be given out on the telephone. "Our call centers would never ask for that type of information over the phone," points out a spokesperson for Microsoft, which has also reminded users that its employees never cold-call existing customers.
This sort of sophisticated robbery, which sometimes leaves victims oblivious to the fact that they have been conned, also demonstrates how IT security has changed. Operating systems are increasingly difficult to infiltrate by traditional means used by scammers just a few years ago.
Hence the development of techniques that make use of every possible resource to persuade computer owners to open the door wide to the cyber-intruders.