My phone rings. It's a cheap internet call from India. But it's not a so-called “consumer survey”. Instead, it's “Alex Carter”. And he is serious – he works for an information technology support team.
He warns me my computer is full of harmful viruses and that the processor has “already almost stopped working.” Even worse, my “percentage error levels” have hit 85. And how does he know all this?
He's a “Microsoft Certified” engineer who has discovered these “facts” because he has scanned my machine via my wireless modem.
Knowing this to be a scam but pretending to be worried, I ask what to do. “I can provide free assistance. But I am a technician, not a magician so I don't know what my colleagues will offer.” As I had to catch a train, I told Alex to call back the next morning.
To my amazement, he did. He told me he worked for a firm called British IT Solutions which was the “only company in the UK helping Microsoft.” He was getting “very harmful internet reports” from my number. The computer was turned off.
“How do you know?” The reply came: “The computer is linked to the router, and the router is linked to the phone line.” This is, of course, a statement of fact and not an explanation.
“Some processors have already stopped working and the computer is sending signals to Microsoft Global Services of many errors,” he informed me.
I enquired how I could fix the problem as I knew “processor failures and viruses were very harmful”.
Assuring me that this was not a sales call, Alex told me to turn my computer on. I did not so I asked again about Microsoft. “The computer sends errors to Microsoft and it passes them on to us as we are part of a certified tech team. You don't need to pay a single penny and we'll show how to delete the errors, warnings, and other problems in my computer. It is my job to tell you about this.”
The lies get bigger
I then revealed that my computer does not run on Windows – it uses a variant of the Linux operating system called Ubuntu. He was confused for a second but not put off. Alex had been trained with a just about plausible, although false, line for those with Apple or other operating systems.
“Because you are running Linux, all internet companies are connected to the global server run by Microsoft which sends us error messages.”
Telling him my machine was working perfectly did not deter him either. “It may appear fine at the moment, but errors and warnings create a problem slowly, then come faster and when they multiply. After a few months your computer will crash and you will lose all your data.”
Scary stuff but a nasty cocktail of unmitigated rubbish and blatant lies.
I finally asked about the firm's website. He said it was part of RedHat.com.
Another outright and outrageous lie. Just as there is absolutely no link between this cold caller in India and Microsoft (whose website has a disclaimer), there is also no connection between the scam firm which phoned me and Red Hat, a US software support company which specialises in Linux applications. Red Hat, a US quoted company worth around $11billion, has told me that using its name in this way is not just confusing, it is criminal. There appears to be no trace of British IT Solutions.
What would have happened
Had I been a nervous person or a computer novice, it would have been all too easy to fall for this long running scam which has resurfaced after a quiet year or two. The perpetrators hope that the interval means we have forgotten the previous warnings.
And here's what would have happened. I would likely have been asked to download remote access software which would have allowed Alex's friends to control my machine from India. They would then have downloaded malware and then charged me up to £185 (plus £100 annual fee) to remove it.
Either way, it's big bucks for them and even if Alex only fooled one person a day, he will have earned his employers far more than he costs.
This call was simply computer garbage. The sooner these people are sent to prison the better – sadly vulnerable people fall for their nonsense every day.