In the 1983 movie War Games, a hacker accidentally finds his way into a NORAD computer system called War Operation Plan Response and begins what he believes is a game called Global Thermonuclear War. The computer doesn’t believe it’s a game, however, and soon puts the United States on a nuclear-infused collision course with Russia.
In a way, scammers are like the hacker in the movie. They know they’re doing something wrong when they attempt to steal from others, hacking their way into their targets’ lives. But for the victims, it’s anything but a game, and the losses could be financially devastating.
A recent scam I encountered is one that has been around for some time. In it, a robocall dials a target and leaves a dire warning message that services on the target’s computer have been locked out.
“This is an emergency call from Windows Microsoft,” the grating, female computer-generated voice coldly states. “Your Windows license key has been expired. All services are suspended on your computer. To renew, call our toll-free number (phone number). This is an emergency call from Windows Microsoft. Your Windows license key has been expired. All services are suspended on your computer. To renew, call our toll-free number (phone number)”
The call terminates afterward, leaving no opportunity for the target to respond.
If a person falls for the scam and dials the number offered in the message, a scammer on the other end of the line will offer to remotely access the computer and check the system for problems or to correct the reported issue. When the computer’s owner grants access to the stranger, the dire warning offered by the robocaller will become a reality, and the scammer will either cause damage to the person’s computer or simulate damage. The scammer will then compel the computer’s owner to pay a fee to correct the issue.
A robotic Microsoft representative with a 1983-era computerized voice will never call you to leave a poorly worded warning message. Ever. If there’s a problem with your computer, the computer itself will give you an obvious message that you need to act.
Callers can say anything they want and pretend to be anyone or from any organization they wish, but simply stating something doesn’t make it true. Don’t automatically assume a caller is telling the truth. The burden of proof is on the caller, and if something doesn’t sound right, hang up immediately. If you want to confirm what the caller is telling you, look up the caller’s information online through your own search efforts and contact the company using that information. Never use information provided by a caller for verification purposes. It could be fake information from a scammer, and you don’t want to play a scammer’s game.