Technology is a wonderful thing when it makes our lives easier, cheaper and more connected with loved ones: think Skype, tele-conferencing, free wi-fi.
And then there’s keylogging. When my computer misbehaves, usually on deadline, I call my service provider, download Team-Viewer, then sit back and watch a tecchie take over my machine, the cursor magically whizzing across my screen under his direction – from his office a half-hour drive away.
Unfortunately, scam artists operating globally have for the past few years been using this technology to scam people while making them believe they’re helping them.
A cold caller – often with an Indian accent – calls people up, claiming to be from Microsoft or somehow affiliated to Microsoft, with the news that their computers are infected with some kind of virus which will corrupt all their files if not taken care of.
And they’ll take care of it, for a fee, of course.
Then they direct the gullible person to a website which gives them remote access to their computers.
At best they claim that the computer is riddled with viruses and on the verge of total collapse, and then whip a massive amount out of their credit card accounts as a fee, or pressurise them into agreeing to a year’s “maintenance fee”.
At worst they install malicious software that could capture sensitive data, such as online banking user names and passwords.
“In reality, there is nothing wrong with these computers, but the scammer has tricked the consumer into believing there is a problem and that paying the fee is the best way to get it fixed,” Microsoft warned South African consumers last year.
“Don’t be fooled, it is not practice at Microsoft to cold call consumers in regards to malfunctioning PCs or viruses.
“In the rare instance where Microsoft might contact consumers directly, the caller will be able to verify the existence of a current customer relationship.”
I’ve had a few of these calls on my home landline, and usually terminate them as soon as I realise what they’re after.
But last week I decided to string the caller along and take a few notes. The man, with a mild voice and a strongly Indian accent, claimed to be calling from Cape Town – no doubt the first lie – representing a company called Virtual PC Secure, which offers “help and advice on the Windows operating system”.
For the past few weeks, he said, when I was online, I’d been acquiring a whole lot of “corrupted files” from the internet.
“And your anti-virus software can’t stop them, all right?” he assured me.
And then he launched into his lure. “Are you sitting in front of your computer now?” I assured him I was, but, like him, I was lying.
“Click on computer management, okay, then see system tools, then events viewer.”
Eventually he asked me what I was seeing on my screen, which is when it became impossible to string him along anymore.
I told him I wasn’t looking at a screen, and asked why on earth he thought I’d let a complete stranger have access to my computer.
His tone switched from sing-song pleasant to angry immediately.
“Don’t try to make me fool!” he blasted.
Same to you, mate, same to you.