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Frank Gray

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Beware surprise service calls for Microsoft scam

Glenda Remaklus was fiddling around on her computer one day this month when the phone rang.

It was Microsoft on the line, expressing concerns about the well-being of her computer. Her machine had been sending out a lot of error messages, the caller said, and then he asked if she would let him fix the problem.

Most of us know that no one, especially a company like Microsoft, is going to contact you out of the blue and offer you money, a job, or to do you a favor, just to make sure your online experience is as delightful as possible.

Even Remaklus knows that. She gets the same bogus emails the rest of us get and kills them right off. She also hangs up on the frequent callers that plague people with phones, which is just about everybody.

But people get caught off guard or get distracted and sometimes talk to people they should be hanging up on.

In Remaklus’ case, she briefly fell for the scam. A lot of functions for some reason had been turned off, the caller said, and he’d fix that. All she had to do was go to a Web address and click on a box here and another box there and give the caller permission to remotely log on to her computer.

At some point, though, Remaklus became suspicious. The caller started talking about cost, she looked at the Web address she had been sent to, and quickly hung up on the caller and changed her password. Then she called the real Microsoft, where she was told all her security settings had been disconnected.

The real Microsoft said this happens about 100 times a day. A technician spent hours restoring her security settings – and charged her $99.

“I thought I was smarter than that,” Remaklus said.

Actually, she is. She dodged the scammer on the phone soon enough that he didn’t gain access to her computer, wasn’t able to steal all the information in it, including passwords and bank and credit card information, all the stuff that ends up in people’s computers when they shop and bank and pay bills online.

The people at the real Microsoft advised her that if she had fallen for the whole routine, all that information would have been stolen and then her computer would have crashed.

Remaklus then sent a message to everyone in her family, detailing exactly what had happened to her – or almost happened – and advising them to be alert for the scam.

And then she called me.

We’ve never written about this particular scam before, but it has been going on for years, and it persists because people, when caught off guard, will fall for it occasionally.

For now, though, one of its potential victims has become one of the people most actively warning people she knows, which is how scams get stomped out.

“Microsoft will never call you,” she advises.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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