No, Microsoft Techs Are Not Proactively Calling You About Your Error Messages

Software crashes. And sometimes when it does, you get the option of sending an error report to the developer. You’ll never hear back, because that’s not the purpose of the report. But that hasn’t stopped scammers from pretending they are Microsoft techs responding to your crash reports.

The L.A. Times’ David Lazarus reports on one Southern California man who says he’s been getting calls once a week from people claiming to be from the Windows Maintenance Department or Microsoft Tech Support. The callers say they are reaching out because of the unusual number of error messages sent from his computer.

“Microsoft doesn’t look at all those error messages it gets,” the man, a retired computer engineer says about the scammers. “Maybe they use them to improve their products, but they don’t respond individually. It was obvious the callers were up to no good.”

While this particular user was savvy enough to avoid falling prey to the scam, Lazarus found that the deception seems to work in one of two ways.

Both ways begin with the “tech support” scammers telling victims to look at their computers’ events log. They will then try to convince the victims that something innocuous on the log is actually evidence of a virus. The scammer then directs victims to a website to download software that the caller claims will remove the virus.

One version of the scam convinces the victim to provide their credit card info to pay for the software. The card is then used to buy anything but useful anti-virus software.

Or the scammer can give away the useless software for free. Once the software is installed, the scammers can hijack the victim’s computer and its contents.

Microsoft confirms that is does “not send unsolicited email messages or make unsolicited phone calls to request personal or financial information or fix your computer… If you receive an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft tech support, hang up. We do not make these kinds of calls.”

The director of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing division put it even more plainly: “Treat callers as you would treat strangers in the street… Do not disclose personal or sensitive information to anyone you do not know.”

Microsoft making house calls? No, it’s a scam [L.A. Times]

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  1. Sulheka says:

    I get these calls about once a month. I tell them we don’t have a computer, which is always hilarious. They don’t know what to say, they clearly don’t have a script for that response.

    • Hotscot says:

      Nice one…..

    • The Porkchop Express says:

      I’ve gotten the call a few times. I like to tell these guys something different every time; I only use Apple, I don’t have a computer, that would explain why my porn was so slow…

    • pamelad says:

      Love your response, Sulheka! I’ve never received a call like that, but I’m tempted to temporarily remove our landline call blocking (not that I really would) just to play.

  2. Outrun1986 says:

    This happened here, a woman was targeted by someone claiming to be from microsoft and they actually got all the way up to remotely accessing her computer, they even spoofed the caller ID to make it look like they were really calling from MS.. I would personally find it odd that someone from MS would be calling me, as I have never had it happen in something like 20 years.

  3. dandadan says:

    This is another Phishing technique. They are relentless at trying to scam people. Most of these are overseas operations. They are contractors who sell the information they get to the organized gangs of criminals. If you are not paranoid, you are not paying attention.

    Anyone who has had any dealings with Microsoft knows that they do not have any phones in Redmond.

  4. AstroPig7 says:

    So what happens when they call someone who doesn’t use Winows? It’s rare, I know, but still worth a laugh.

    • j2.718ff says:

      Simple, they hang up and dial the next number.

    • BBBB says:

      I got two of these about six months ago, but they didn’t claim to be from Microsoft. They used some official sounding name and quickly went on to tell me that there was a dangerous virus in computers in my neighborhood,. I tried to string them along, but their instructions were for a newer operating system and when I described seeing different things in the menus they didn’t seem to know what to do. They didn’t seem to have a different script for older operating systems. The first “service rep” transferred me to someone else (and it sounded like a physical phone hand off) who spoke better English, was pushier, but just as dependent on the script — he then got mad at me for wasting their time and he hung up on me while I begged him to help me get rid of the virus.

      I didn’t have time to play when the second one called.

  5. Robert Nagel says:

    Microsoft needs to point out that if they were calling customers about problems that would be defined as “service”. Then everybody will understand that it simply cannot be Microsoft calling. Even the dullest among us.

  6. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    While I think there’s no way Microsoft would respond individually to crash reports, there are software companies that often do occasionally contact users for more information. I’ve gotten feedback from ESRI and AutoDesk — I think the difference is that it’s been done for software that costs $10,000+ per license.

    • wrjohnston91283 says:

      I’m sure the cost of the software has much to do with it, but I think it also boils down to the specialization of the software – Microsoft must aggregate error messages to find trends, but even if they know my computer was having one of these problems, them calling me up isn’t going to help them – I’m not going to be able to identify what exactly I was doing when the problem happened, and there are too many variables at play. If you have a problem with autoCAD, maybe that problems is happening over and over, and they can see that you are submitting that report once a week, so they want to call to help figure out what you are doing to generate it, or to tell you to try something else.

  7. Hungry Dog says:

    Please to disregard this article. The consoomerist has been filled with viruses and is posting false messages. Download my softwares at legitimate site to solve these viruses.

  8. Coffee says:

    I would like to think that people are cynical enough to avoid this kind of scam, but after receiving a call from my mother, during which she informed me that she had a virus, but not to worry…there’s an anti-virus program that popped up and will take care of it if she pays $29.99, I have serious reservations about the gullibility of many of our older computer users.

    • lettucefactory says:

      I know. My mother-in-law got one of these calls and was almost sold. Fortunately, she decided to check with my husband first, but that she was on the brink is scary enough. My MIL is not a stupid person. She works a job, she has a masters degree, she functions in society perfectly well – but get her in front of a computer and all of a sudden she’s totally gullible. It’s a huge blind spot for her, and I doubt she’s the only one from her age group we can say this about. This is only going to become more of a problem as time wears on.

      • Coffee says:

        Yep…and for the record, my mother is a doctor.

      • bhurt544 says:

        Allow me to stand up for you mother-in-law. She’s not computer savvy, however I don’t think gullible either. She, not knowing, checked with someone else in whom she could trust that did know. That’s exactly what we all should do. Being to trusting is only one part of being scammed. The other (ego-related) part is thinking you know more than you do or not wanting to let on that you don’t.

    • missminimonster says:

      I teach computer classes for seniors and we spend a lot of time going over these different scams. I usually have at least one person per class, though, that has fallen for one. My clients are from all walks of life as well.

  9. kobresia says:

    Pro tip: They frequently try to get the victim to install ABBYY remote session software so they can “help” troubleshoot the issue. Big red flag there.

    I’ve never personally received a scam call from them, but my dad and some of his friends have. All of them are over 65, which leads me to believe that they are deliberately targeting the older demographic.

    • MrEvil says:

      I’ve actually been prepping a Virtual machine for them to “fix” populated with tons of phoney data belonging to a Mister George Kaplan. I want to see just far down this rabbit hole goes.

      • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

        Oooh, I love that idea. It’s evidence of their scam without causing harm!

  10. MitchEvious says:

    One of these guys called a line that rings all of our High Level Windows Engineers…we had fun with that.

    • AtlantaCPA says:

      Need more details! Quotes? I would love to hear that. Listening to scammers get scammed is one of my guilty pleasures.

  11. That guy. says:

    Since they are banking on people who aren’t computer savy, I’d waste their time acting as if I’m totally unclear on how to work my computer.

    “Where am I supposed to type that address? I’m in my email, my grandson put a link. Do I hit send? I don’t see a start button, just a power button. I hit it and my computer turned off. Should I turn it on again?”

  12. alexwade says:

    I know one person who a victim of this scam. The scammers convinced the person to let them control their computer to fix a problem. She was elderly and didn’t know better. The fact is they wouldn’t do this scam if it didn’t work.

    • Outrun1986 says:

      This is exactly how it went down here, though the person must have to be somewhat computer savvy (at least know the very basics) to get into that remote session as I have done legitimate remote sessions and it takes a bit of work to get into them.

  13. Snape says:

    How do you guys have your number on their lists? Do you go around giving out your email to every website you know?

  14. bhr says:

    I’ve gotten a couple calls from the “Windows Company Technical Department.” When I pointed out to the first guy that there was no such company he hung up on me. Now I just start cursing at them.

  15. KhaiJB says:

    had one here…

    Scammer : “your PC is sending out important information!”
    Me : What info?
    Scammer : it’s very important!
    Me: what info are we talking about here?
    Scammer : It’s just very important!
    Me: oh my god… you mean
    Scammer (sensing kill) : yes, I can help you
    Me : you mean you’ve got the photos of me and that goat???

    Scammer : *click*

    remember. it is our duty to make them hang on as long as we can and mock them :D

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      HA HA!

      I had the copier scam people call me and one time I told the lady “We don’t use a copier. We use carbon paper.” She said “Uhhhhh…..” and I said, “Bye!” and hung up.

      :)

    • oldwiz65 says:

      It’s always great when people can turn the tables on criminals.

  16. wooldri2 says:

    I was at my mothers house about a month ago and they called. A guy with a heavy accent told me that he was from MS and needed to remote into our computer to fix an issue with my operating system. This issue was supposedly causing issues on their servers. I told him that I use Apple products, and thus, do not have a MS operating system. I have to be honest, I was having fun with him. After several times trying to tell him that I have an Apple OS, and asking for a legit number to call back he told me I was telling bleeping lies. Gotta love scammers.

  17. drbtx1 says:

    I did tech support for Microsoft in the 2k/early xp era. I had multiple people tell me they had submitted error reports and never got the expected call back. So I am not surprised that people fall for this.

  18. RecordStoreToughGuy_RidesTheWarpOfSpaceIntoTheWombOfNight says:

    Hypothetically, how would one go about maybe getting on one of these call lists? Hypothetically.

  19. xspook says:

    I’ve had a mysterious number calling for quite a few weeks…literally, the caller ID showed 1234567890. FInally, one day I picked up and JOY! It was “Jimmy” or whatever the hell from Microsoft splaining that they were here to help! YAY.

    I strung him along a bit and asked if he could help get rid of the Indian child pr0n on my PC. He didn’t care for that and hung up. Hasn’t called back since.

  20. Donathius says:

    I work in IT – I’d love for these guys to give me a call just so I can see how long I could string them along.

  21. Twinkietamer says:

    When I did tech support or HP, I would get at least a few calls a week from people who had fallen victim to this or who had been attempted marks. Sometimes they would even say they represented HP or other computer manufacturers. One poor lady I talked to was in tears because her elderly mother had already paid the scammers hundreds of dollars before she the daughter was learned about it and intervened.

  22. gnubian says:

    I had to clean up one of my client’s computers after he installed aammy after one of these calls. It’s similar to snail mail phishing.

  23. lvdave says:

    None of my computers uses Windows, all Linux. But I’d LOVE to set up a honeypot for these bozos, namely a Virtualbox virtualized Windows session, and play the “clueless computer user”, and see how much fun I could have with them….

  24. DarkPsion says:

    I just got one of those today. They said they were getting messages from all the Maleware on my computer, but since I was a good Windows customer they could help me fix my computer.

    The guy had a thick Pakistani accent and didn’t sound like he even knew how to turn a computer on.

    I also got an email yesterday that said I would be receiving an ATM card with 5 million dollars from Nigeria.

    With the way my week has been, they both gave me a well needed laugh.

  25. dabarak says:

    I can’t believe my dad fell for this. I had no idea he was that stupid. I’m so ashamed.

    • Gladeye says:

      Your dad’s not stupid. He’s trusting. The world would be a better place if we were all more trusting. Trusting of others can be a really great trait when it’s not exploited.

  26. Gladeye says:

    We got the call twice. Both times, the caller had an Indian/Pakistani accent.

  27. BarbiCat says:

    I can’t “reply to”, so this is for Snape:

    Do you seriously not understand how email works? Your phone number isn’t connected to your email address. This has nothing to do with “giving away your email address”, as most people who are targeted for these scams don’t even have email accounts or computers. This is simply a list of numbers that they dial and hope for an answer on. Don’t even try place the blame for the call on the people who are getting scammed.

    My 83 year old grandmother was getting 6 of these calls per day at one point. I feel badly for whoever she spoke with, she doesn’t have a computer and she’s a bored, nasty old lady. One time she started crying hysterically and telling the person on the phone that she lost her computer in a fire and now she was homeless and living in an old burnt out wreck. She’s a mean old woman.

  28. xspook says:

    I think the next time they call, I’ll tell them about my nude pictures of Allah having sex with a dog. That should make for a fun conversation.