Yesterday afternoon (October 1, 2011) I got a call from a fellow with a heavy Indian accent, telling me he was from the Windows Centre, and that they’d noticed my computer was running slower and slower every day. But not to fear: within 10 minutes, if I followed his directions, we would be able to correct these issues.
Right off the bat it sounded like a scam. It was clear they had taken pains not to mention any sort of affiliation with Microsoft. I was interested how they would try to infiltrate my system and get money out of me, so I followed a little ways. (Added bonus: whatever time they spent with me, would be time they didn’t spend with someone who’d fall for their bamboozlement.)
The first thing he had me do was run eventvwr.exe. Innocent enough: this is the Windows Event Viewer. Some 13,000 events came up. He had me filter to see warnings, errors and critical errors, explaining that this was why my system was running so slowly. But not to worry: we’re going to get your system fixed up. (I suppose I should have gushed a little about how grateful I was that these guys were being so pro-active in providing customer support.)
He then asked me to bring up my browser and go to https://www.ammyy.com. At this point I switched to my MacBook Pro: It’s possible the web page itself might’ve had content which could compromise a Windows machine. Although, Firefox has a number of security features built-in, and I also run Windows Security Essentials on all my Windows machines. But, just in case, I figured OSX was safer. On top of which, even if the page succeeded in compromising my system, I have current backups of this machine through Time Machine.
Ammyy Software Development allows you to download Ammyy Admin, a remote desktop control application. I wasn’t about to hand over control of my machine to these chuckleheads. Additionally, the software might have had other, unadvertised, features: it could allow them, for example, to control my machine surreptitiously, in the background. Then the machine, and my Internet connection, could be used for all kinds of monkeyshines.
So this is where I, politely, told him I wasn’t really worried about my computer’s slowness. Right away he started asking what I was talking about, didn’t I want to speed up my computer, and why was I talking this way? He kept this up right until I hung up. And they haven’t called back. So, no harm, no foul, right? Except that they had asked for me by name when they called.
These con artists are targeting the less computer savvy. In particular, the elderly make easy targets. This security forum thread speculates these hustlers might have access to the AARP (Association of American Retired Persons) mailing list.
The CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) could be doing a lot more to protect Canadians from these fraudsters. Here are a few ideas to get them started:
- Tracking numbers for complaints, so complainants don’t feel their complaints are just dumped in the circular file.
- Publish case studies of complaints to show that shady operators are being shut down when people complain about them.
- Award part of the fines levied against transgressors to the complainants.
- Improve the sign-up process for the National Do Not Call list. Allow people to check they’re on the list.
But, if we’re being realistic, we know the CRTC doesn’t give a hoot (AKA rat’s ass) about the do not call list. For instance, you can’t even find “do not call” from their search engine.