Cold call scammers target Valley computer users

FRESNO, Calif.

A scrolling file log across the computer screen is often one way tech experts say scammers will use a person's own computer against them. An error log is what convinced John Norton his new PC needed work.

"They were telling me that they're going to get rid of all of these errors and all of this virus stuff in my windows program, and there were like 17,000 errors," he said.

Norton was convinced to give the scammers remote access to his desktop. He says the caller threatened that his computer was about to crash. "They're talking about your computer," Norton said. "My goodness gracious, if you've got a lot invested in there, and you don't want it to crash." Now he says his HP computer doesn't run the way it used to.

Action News talked with the company that calls itself Microsoft Service Center or Windows Technical Support. The person on the phone was very confusing and only clear about one thing, it would cost $149 to fix John's computer, which was working fine, until their call last week.

The Better Business Bureau says it's receiving an alarming amount of calls about similar scam attempts. "Recognize that this is their job," warned Blair Looney, President of the Central California BBB. "They do it all day long. They're very good at every objection that people throw up of overcoming them so that they can gain control of that person's computer."

Jay Petersen, owner of The Geeks, a computer repair shop in Clovis, says allowing remote access to someone you don't know can be detrimental.

"They might just poke around and show you a bunch of stuff to scare you," Petersen said. "They could install some malware. They could install programs that can log your key strokes and get your banking information."

Microsoft responded to Action News' request for information with the following statement:

"Cybercriminals often use the names of well-known companies, like ours, in their scams to try to convince people that their phone calls or emails are legitimate. Since receiving reports about these scams in 2010, Microsoft has made an effort to clarify that these emails and cold calls are a scam and that Microsoft will never contact a consumer and ask for their credit card number to charge them for a service they don't need. Examples include a site detailing the issue and a blog providing guidance to inquiring or victimized consumers. In addition, Microsoft released a study looking into the breadth that these phone scams have in English speaking countries. Meanwhile, the FTC also has information about these scams; you can find this information here."

"I'm not very happy about it," Norton said. "But look, I'm just one person here. And there's 500,000 people here, who else have they scammed."

The bottom line: both the BBB and Petersen say just hang up the phone. It will save your PC and your identity.

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