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Computer scam locks user's computer, instructs you to call Microsoft technical support

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Posted at 6:00 AM, Apr 26, 2022

BALTIMORE — A computer scam that imitates Microsoft customer support locks the screen on your device and instructs you to call a phone number.

Everything about the warning looked real to Trish Thomas, so she followed the instructions, even giving the impostors access to her bank account. But right before she transferred any money, her radar went up.

“I had already experienced atleast 3, 4 of them and I don’t fall for those,” said Thomas who knows better than to fall for phone scams. But she’d never seen a message like the one on her husband’s Google Chromebook supposedly from Microsoft technical support.

“It says do not close your computer,” Thomas recalled. “Across the bottom, it said call Microsoft support and it had a toll-free number, so I thought okay, I guess I better call."

A man told her there’s unusual activity on her bank account. She’d need to download AnyDesk, an application giving him access to her phone then log into her bank account.

“He told me there’s a $5,000 charge for something, and another $1,000 subscription for pornographic stuff, I went that’s not ours,” Thomas said.

He then asked her for the customer service number on the back of her bank card. He’d call that number and connect her with the bank on a secure line.

“We did indeed transfer what was in my savings into my checking, we got that far and then he says well, I just want to verify your identity,” said Thomas. “He said can you take a picture of your driver’s license for me? And then a giant red flag went up to me, I said no, I don’t feel comfortable doing that I can go to my bank branch tomorrow and show them my ID and they can take care of the rest of this. And with that, click, he hangs up.”

Thomas immediately changed her log-in information, notified her bank, then went to the Bel Air Computer Guy to get her devices wiped clean.

“We deal with two to three scams, usually a week,” said Mike Dowell, owner of the Bel Air Computer Guy.

And this Microsoft one is very popular right now.

“There’s no X out option and then they can force whatever message onto you that’s going to be the one that gets you to pick up the phone,” Dowell said.

These fake support messages end up on your computer from clicking malicious links.

“Clicking a link in an email or an advertisement that’s cleverly stuffed into a web page or something like that,” said Dowell.

The number has already been disconnected, but these impostors are constantly changing tactics and contact information.

Another popular phishing campaign says you’ve been billed for subscription services you didn’t sign up for.

“They say, ‘Okay I’m going to refund the $499 right now,’ but then they go in and black the screen out and they refund $50,000. They change your bank account so when you come back you go, oh my god, and then they say, ‘Oh I screwed up, my manager is going to kill me, and you have to help me. You’ve got to give me your credit card number and we’ll fix this,’ and whatever and you’re involved in this story basically,” said Dowell.

Dowell added that no matter how computer saavy you are, these scams can be convincing. Even he's had issues thwarting cyber criminals.

“I have 32-character passwords, they’re crazy cryptic and everything’s insane and I have multi-factor authentication and still somebody took out a Best Buy credit card in my name last year, no idea,” said Dowell.

Dowell tells his customers to never call a number that’s given to you. Don’t click any suspicious links or attachments from people you don’t trust. And know that Microsoft, McAfee, Norton, and any similar companies will never call you and tell you they need access to your computer.

According to the FBI Internet Crime Report, losses from tech support scams more than doubled in one year. Americans reported losing more than $347 million dollars in 2021.

For more information on how to keep your computer secure, and what to do if a tech support scammer already has your information, click here.