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Tech support scams follow WannaCry ransomware

Tech support scams follow WannaCry ransomware

Less than a fortnight after the ransomware virus known as WannaCry devastated NHS computers, tricksters posing as Microsoft are attempting to scam victims with phony ‘technical support’.

ActionFraud, the UK police’s fraud intelligence bureau, is warning home computer users to be wary after receiving reports of tech support scams relating to the WannaCry ransomware bug. According to consumers reporting the scam, pop-up windows appeared on their browsers, claiming their computers were infected with the WannaCry virus. The pop-ups pushed victims to phone a number for computing support they didn’t even need.

According to ActionFraud, one victim who called the number was persuaded to give the scammers remote access to their PC. The scammers then installed a free Windows antivirus tool. Yet they charged the victim £320 for doing so.

The NHS ransomware attack – what you need to know

Microsoft scam calls

The pop-up scam messages are a variation on the tried-and-tested Microsoft support scam that has been plaguing UK households for years. A cold caller contacts potential victims, posing as ‘Microsoft support’. They then claim to know of problems afflicting a PC in the household, and attempt to persuade the victim into allowing remote access to their computer.

At this point, a caller can install a virus, lift personal data from the computer, or simply persuade a victim to part with money for support they don’t need.

No legitimate company – including Microsoft and your internet service provider – will ever call you out of the blue regarding a virus or slow-running computer. Any caller claiming to know about problems on your machine is lying in order to create panic and exploit uncertainty.

Microsoft itself – with all its billions – couldn’t know that your computer is having trouble and call your landline to resolve it. ‘We don’t have some Big Brother eye that tells us about people’s computer speeds,’ says Stuart Aston, chief security adviser for Microsoft. ‘Any computer report that’s sent to Microsoft is completely anonymous. Even if we had access to this kind of data, we’d never make unsolicited calls to customers.’

Protect your computer: read our reviews of the best antivirus software.

Pop-up tech support scams

Pop-up windows appearing suddenly while you’re browsing the web can be irritating. But there’s a risk, too, if you don’t treat them with caution.

Be careful with any pop-up window that appears out of the blue claiming your PC is infected. If it features a phone number to call, don’t use it – legitimate security software simply doesn’t function this way. Calling the number could connect you to a scammer seeking access to your PC or bank details.

To stay safe, check our simple advice on how to deal with pop-up support scam messages

While scam calls and pop-ups can feel alarming, a few simple practices will keep you safe:

  • If a pop-up appears with a number to call, don’t call it. Close down your web browser to remove the message.
  • Microsoft will never phone you out of the blue. Anyone claiming to work for Microsoft, Windows support or even your internet provider, offering to help with computing issues, is a scammer. Hang up immediately.
  • Never allow remote access to your PC from a cold-caller.
  • Don’t share your card or bank details with a tech support agent who has cold-called you or whose number you saw on a pop-up message.
  • If you’re concerned about a potential virus infection, trust your antivirus software. Run a scan to check all is well on your computer.
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