The phone call to Peggie Sherwin’s home was alarming, unexpected, and completely bogus.
"I got scammed," Sherwin said.
A caller claiming to be Microsoft Tech Support dialed Sherwin and told her that her laptop was infected with viruses and was about to crash.
Sherwin said the caller had her click a couple of windows that appeared to back up the caller’s claim. Ultimately, he delivered a sales pitch: "For $99 for one year we'll clean it up for you."
Sherwin smelled a rat. So, she added her IT guy, Shan Ragland, to the line.
"She put me on the phone, and… he hung up," Ragland said.
But the damage was done.
"They locked me out of my computer," she said. Ragland, of Eagle Computer Solutions, Inc., figures the caller directed Ragland to a trap: a website infected with malware.
Ragland spent several days disinfecting Sherwin’s computer. He says the red flag that gives away this con is a simple truth.
"Microsoft doesn't ever call you," he said. "It's just hard enough getting a hold of them. They're not going to call you out of the blue."
Microsoft agrees. A special web page is dedicated to warning consumers about the fraud, which has become widespread.
“Neither Microsoft nor our partners make unsolicited phone calls,” the company said.
One of those cold calls rang the wrong guy.
"It's really a million dollar industry," said Jerome Segura, a software developer who writes the code that keeps computers safe from scammers. Segura says he received a “Microsoft Tech Support” call and played along. He recorded the call.
A woman started off by telling him to click on various diagnostic tools – most of which Segura says are operating normally. Yet the operator lays out a dire situation.
"Each of these errors and warnings has already started corrupting your whole computer system," she says.
Later, a man joins the call and is able to access Segura’s computer by remote. He also suggests that the computer needs immediate repair – which will cost Segura dearly.
"It is $299 dollars for the lifetime," he told Segura.
When Segura refused to pay, he discovered an even more sinister side of the scheme.
"They actually retaliate," he said.
Segura recorded video of his computer screen as the criminals began deleting his files. It was obvious that the deletions – including folders labeled documents, music, and photos – were blatantly malicious.
"Those documents were taken from me as we were speaking. They actually stole those documents," he said.
Segura said he believes the random calls originate in India. His recommendation for consumers is simple: ignore the call.
LINK: Report a scam to the FTC