I think we’ve all seen those virus alerts to some degree or another that pop-up on our desktops telling us that we’ve been infected. They’ll typically pretend to be from legitimate companies like Symantec or Microsoft (in some cases, even using a fake Microsoft logo to establish credibility), and they always want you to call a fake number — which leads to paying money for a fake service.
I’d like to believe that anyone reading this blog is someone who can detect this kind of scam, but regardless, whether you’ve fallen for this in the past or not, new information on the source of this costly annoyance appears to have come to light.
And it takes us all the way to India, thanks to The New York Times.
The article begins by telling us that 1 out of 5 people who receive such alerts tend to contact the fake tech support centers, while 6% of users in general actually pay for the fake services – which is crazy in and of itself.
Nothing about those alerts look legitimate, but hey, there are A LOT of people on this planet…
The meat of the piece points to Microsoft and how they helped police trace who was behind these large-scale operations. Apparently, these scammers have their roots in New Delhi, the capital of India, which is also the epicenter of call centers in general.
According to the software giant, more than 11,000 calls per month about fake security warnings were being received. And many people as a result, lost significant sums of money to the fraud.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, police from two New Delhi suburbs raided 16 fake call centers and arrested more than 50 in connection with the scam.
Fixing the non-existent virus could involve calling a tech support center, where an operator would talk a victim through a fake fix and then charge them for the work. In other cases, the bogus tech support team would call their targets themselves and pretend to be a Microsoft employee, bringing to their attention a virus or false claim that his or her system could have been hacked. Eventually, they ask for anywhere from $99 to $1,000 to fix the problem that doesn’t exist in reality.
Courtney Gregoire, an assistant general counsel in Microsoft’s digital crimes unit, perhaps said it best when she was quoted as saying, “This is an organized crime.”
The scam is incredibly lucrative according to researchers at Stony Brook University. They published a detailed study of fake tech support services last year that estimated just a single pop-up campaign, spread over 142 web domains, could bring in nearly $10 million in just 2 months.
Microsoft said it was working with other tech industry leaders such as Apple and Google, as well as law enforcement, to fight the digital epidemic, which is migrating beyond the English-speaking world to target other users in their local languages.
Microsoft has also published advice about ways to spot the fake calls and avoid becoming a victim.