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Microsoft warns of phone-call security scam targeting PC users

June 17, 2011 | 10:54 am

Microsoft is warning its customers of a new scam that employs "criminals posing as computer security engineers and calling people at home to tell them they are at risk of a computer security threat."

The tech giant said that victims of the scam lose on average $875 after "the scammers tell their victims they are providing free security checks and add authenticity by claiming to represent legitimate companies and using telephone directories to refer to their victims by name."

20101230023707ENPRN070340-PRN-MICROSOFT-LOGOa-n`070-1293676627MR Funds are stolen by the scammers using "a range of deception techniques designed to steal money," Microsoft said in a statement detailing the scam.

Microsoft -- which makes the Windows operating system and Office suite of applications -- said the fraud targets English speakers and that it recently surveyed 7,000 PC users in the U.K., Ireland, U.S. and Canada to track the scope of the problem.

The company's survey found that across the four countries, 15% of PC users had received a call from scammers. In Ireland, 26% of people surveyed by Microsoft were called by the scammers, Microsoft said.

About 3% of the total number of Microsoft users surveyed ended up following the scammers' instructions, "which ranged from permitting remote access to their computer and downloading software code provided by the criminals to providing credit card information and making a purchase," the company said.

The large majority of people who were deceived, 79%, lost money as a result of the scam, Microsoft said, while 19% said their passwords were compromised and 17% fell victim to identity fraud.

Of those scammed, 53% said they dealt with computer problems after the phone calls.

While the average amount of money stolen from victims was $875 across the four countries Microsoft surveyed, the average cost of repairing damage caused to computers by the scammers was higher, with an average of $1,730, the company said.

In the U.S., victims repairing damage to their computers as a result of the scam spent on average $4,800.

Microsoft offered up a few tips that may help prevent someone from being scammed:

-- Be suspicious of unsolicited calls related to a security problem, even if those calling say they work for a respected company

-- Never give out your personal information to such callers, including credit card or bank details

-- Don't visit any websites, install any software or follow any other instructions "from someone who calls out of the blue"

-- Use strong passwords and change them regularly

-- And, for Windows users, install Microsoft Security Essentials free antivirus software

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Twitter.com/nateog

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