DANDRIDGE (WATE) – A phone call scam is currently circulating in which con artists pretend they’re from Microsoft support. They claim their call is an alert and they want you to turn over some key information.
A woman in Dandridge kept the caller on the phone for 10 minutes, asking her to read her Windows product key to him. A product key is a 25-character code that’s used to activate Windows. It’s on a card inside the box the Windows CD came in. or in an email that shows you bought Windows. It’s a safeguard and verifies that Windows hasn’t been used on more computers than the terms on the Microsoft software license allowed.
If you’re unfamiliar with what a product code is and what the con artist is trying to do, you could become a victim of the scammer’s call.
Janet Drass-Talbot was doing her income taxes last week from her home office when she received the call. She’s a former business executive and is pretty knowledgable with the workings of a computer. When she picked up the phone, she heard a pre-recorded message claiming to be from Microsoft.
“(The message) said that my Microsoft product key had expired. It was an alert that I needed to call this number immediately,” she said.
She was told her system could stop working and she needed to take action.
“‘If you don’t get this problem fixed it will stop operating within four or five days.’ I said, ‘What is the number?’ He went off the phone, came back and gave me a long stream of numbers,” said Drass-Talbot.
She said the man had a heavy foreign accent and was persistent.
“He said if you will just let me help you, we can get this resolved. I said, ‘Okay, what do we need to do?’ He said, ‘I need to get into your operating system,” she said.
If Drass-Talbot had followed the scammer’s insturctions, she would have likely downloaded malware and he could have taken control of her computer. That would have been especially bad in Drass-Talbot’s case as she was doing her taxes at the time.
“He could have gotten everything,” she said.
The phone number he gave to Drass-Talbot is no longer in service. Todd Knowles from Big Bang Computers said last year while researching a similar hoax how easy it is for scammers to fool unsuspecting people into following their directions.
“It takes but a few second and they can drop malware on your computer and you are at their mercy,” he said. “There is not a company out there that is going to call you and let you that you have a problem with your computer.”
The hoax started a few months ago and is now making the rounds thorugh East Tennessee. Microsoft support will never ask you for your product key code numbers.
“You know, I worked in the corporate world for a long time so I understand these things. But for those who didn’t work with this sort of thing they wouldn’t understand,” said Drass-Talbot.
Don’t be sucked into this type of scam and end up having your identity stolen or having your computer frozen or infected. Microsoft does not have partners who call you, nor do they hire subcontractors to call. Microsoft says they know these scams exist, but with companies springing up like dandelions or closing and changing names when discovered and mostly operating in foreign countries, it would take an army of lawyers to pursue them all.
If you get one of these calls, the important thing is to hang up.