I got a fun phone call this evening. The number was blocked and my initial reaction was to not answer it, but my boss is in town and the phones at work don’t always show up properly on my phone’s caller ID so I went against my better judgement and answered it. The man on the other end of the line had a very thick Indian accent and sounded like he was working in a call center. He claimed to be an official Microsoft Technical Support technician and that they had been alerted to problems with my PC that could result in “very bad” crashes that could result in “total loss of all data.”
Naturally I was very concerned about this newly discovered risk and he helpfully offered to show me where on my computer I could see for myself the dozens of error messages they had been receiving through a “web server” (you could almost hear the double quotes in the way he said it). He had me sit down in front of my PC (I was already there) and gave me step-by-step instructions on how to launch the Event Viewer in Windows. Therein he directed me to the Custom Views and Administrative Events log where there were, indeed, dozens and dozens of error messages and warnings including some that were critical! Oh my!
This is why, he explained as though I were a five-year-old, that my computer was at risk and that I had hit the limit which triggered their contacting me. Not to fear, they could assist in fixing the problem! He asked if I had Internet Explorer, I said I do, so he instructed me to go to a webpage where I should download a product called Ammyy Admin 3 (it’s free!) which would allow them to assist me directly.
It was at this point that I informed him that I was a computer technician myself and that I knew there wasn’t anything wrong with my computer and that they weren’t receiving notifications through a “web server” of problems I might be having and… that’s when he hung up on me.
Now it appears that the Ammyy Admin 3 software is a legitimate product used by a number of folks that asshole scammers have latched onto for this cold calling scam because it’s free and allows them to take control of your PC once it’s installed. There’s even a forum thread on their site about this scam. Not to mention that if you Google the URL you were given you find that immediately after the link to the Ammyy software homepage are links to people reporting on this scam. Word has it that if you go along with the scam they’ll show you some more generic error messages in the Event Viewer logs and tell you it’s because your system is infected with a virus and then they’ll take you to a website where they’ll try to get you to buy an anti-virus software package that probably doesn’t do jack shit. The details vary as does the software — this account from another support professional back in 2005 said they used a remote desktop package called Teamviewer — but the scam is the same. Show you some scary looking logs and convince you to buy their bullshit software.
Here’s the thing, at any given point in time the Event Viewer is almost always going to be chock full of error messages. That’s just the nature of the Windows beast. If you’re familiar with the Event Viewer then it’s not too difficult to figure out that most of these aren’t anything to be concerned about, but for the average Jane or Joe it can look pretty alarming. Folks have said that once they take control of your PC they’ll also do stupid things like list the files in your Temp or Prefetch folder and then tell you that those files are the result of spyware or a virus. Again, if you’re not that familiar with how Windows works it could look pretty scary. One red flag that you’re being bullshitted is the fact that they have you download a free third-party Remote Desktop tool. Windows already has a Remote Desktop tool built in along with a Remote Assistance tool which Microsoft would probably make use of if it was really Microsoft. Which it isn’t because Microsoft would never call you for something like this.
As near as I can tell, the scammers aren’t using the opportunity of having full access to your computer to steal your personal information (e.g. documents, credit card numbers, bank passwords, etc.) but I didn’t dig into too many of the websites that are talking about this so I can’t say for sure that they aren’t. Needless to say, once you’ve given them access to your machine you should probably consider it comprised badly enough to back up your data, erase your hard drive, and reinstall everything from scratch. Hopefully you’ll have read this first and will recognize these assholes when they come calling.