"There’s a sucker born every minute” was originally coined by David Hannum, but we all associate it with P.T. Barnum, which proves the point that anyone can be a victim of scams and hoaxes if the line is made believable enough and the person being scammed wants to believe it. Such is the case with a scam currently being run by a group claiming to be from Microsoft but who are, in reality, salespeople.
The scam goes like this, “Hello! I am Michael Smith from Microsoft and your computer is infected with viruses that are spreading across the Internet and if you do not get rid of them, we will be forced to rescind your license of Windows and shut your computer down. We can get rid of these malware programs and clean your computer remotely if you give us access to your computer.” That is certainly not verbatim, but does that sound familiar?
OK, maybe I am more than a little jaded from all the Internet scams I have seen the past 41 years in this business, but I find it hard to believe that Bill Gates would call in one of his best techs and say, “You know Charlie, we need to get in touch with Emily Jones in Ahwatukee and shut her computer down. She has all those viruses on her computer and is creating a real problem for everyone else. She has to be stopped!” Can you really visualize that? I have such a hard time with that.
Even assuming this type of interaction did occur, imagine the man hours and tenacity it would take for someone to determine what IP address these suspected viruses were emanating from and what type of Windows they were running (this part is not that hard to find out) but then determining that YOU, Emily Jones, is the owner of this IP address, this particular license of Windows XP, you live in Ahwatukee and your phone number is 480-xxx-xxxx. Then the task of convincing Emily that she needs to allow a total stranger access to the computer in order to rid it of these viruses or it will shut down the license of Windows that was paid for and it will be revoked. To quote Jerry Seinfeld, “That is one magic loogie.”
It reminds me of the lady on “Judge Judy” who received an email telling her she had won an inheritance from a very distant relative in India. Even though nobody from her family has ever ventured a step out of Kane County, Ill., she is convinced she has won this prize and all she needs to do is send the executor $1,500 to receive a check for $14 million. She does not have the money for the executor so she borrows it from a neighbor and when she finds that she has been scammed, refuses to pay her neighbor believing since she was scammed, she does not owe her neighbor any money. Really? I mean, have you really listened to what you are saying?
A true salesman knows how to get you on his/her side and will make you believe anything is possible and in many cases, probable. That is their job and some are incredibly good at it. Take, for instance, the salesman at Lehman Brothers who was given a stack of very high risk, nearly worthless mortgages and told to make money off them. Being a highly skilled salesman, he was able to wrap them in very attractive, very low-risk mortgages and sell the lot of them as AAA Prime, which started the housing bubble that nearly took down the global economy, and still threatens it mightily.
The lesson here is if you are approached by someone telling you something that sounds hard to believe, sleep on it and in the morning ask yourself if this sounds right. You can also email me any time for advice. If you have been a victim of this scam, I suggest you save all your critical data and reinstall Windows on your machine. It is the only way to be fully confident you have removed any vestige of the time bomb or trojan they may have left as a thank you.
• Mike Smothers is president of Smothers Computer Services, based in Ahwatukee Foothills. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (480) 753-7667.