Cold-call sales scam warning

INTERNET users across Wigan are being targeted by criminals posing as fake Microsoft support staff in a scam which potentially exposes every detail stored on a PC.

The crooks cold-call people at home offering ‘free security checks’, and then tricking them into allowing remote access of their machines or into downloading dodgy software programmes which give the conmen access to every piece of information, including passwords to bank accounts and credit cards.

In some cases, they demand credit card information to validate your Windows licence, claim you have won the Microsoft Lottery or send unsolicited email messages with attached security updates.

The scam was uncovered after councillors Paul and Jeanette Prescott were targeted and reported the incident to the council’s trading standards department.

Coun Paul Prescott said; “Jeanette took a call on our private landline from a guy with a foreign accent.

“He claimed he was from a security organisation and said there was a possibility there was a virus on our laptop.

“The idea was they would sweep the system and wipe the virus. He gave Jeanette a set of instructions which would allow the organisation access to the laptop. Jeanette asked for the man’s name, and there was a very panicked voice in the background which said ‘hang up’ three times, and he did.

“I believe this is the first such incident in Wigan.

“It is far more serious than crooks getting money from you – they could potentially clear people’s bank accounts.”

Julie Middlehurst, Wigan Council’s chief trading standards officer, said people need to be vigilant, especially when answering the door to cold-call salesmen and women.

She added: “Criminals are clever people, and cyber criminals in particular are finding increasingly sophisticated ways of getting hold of your money.

“Our advice is simple. Do not take at face value any unsolicited approaches, regardless of whether they come in the form of phone calls, emails or visitors to your front door.”

She advises:

Be suspicious of unsolicited calls related to a security problem, even if they claim to represent a respected company;

Never provide personal information, such as credit card or bank details, to an unsolicited caller;

Do not go to a website, type anything into a computer, install software or follow any other instruction from someone who calls out of the blue;

Write the caller’s information down and pass it to the authorities;

Use up-to-date versions of Windows and application software;

Make sure security updates are installed regularly;

Use a strong password and change it regularly;

Make sure the firewall is turned on and that antivirus software is installed and up to date.

And Microsoft has also issued advice to users to ensure their security.

The company advises anyone who has already fallen for such a scam to change their passwords, scan their machines for malware and contact their bank and credit card providers.

For more advice on Microsoft tech support scams, go to: www.microsoft.com/security/online-privacy/avoid-phone-scams.aspx