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How scammers are holding PCs hostage

Health-related topics on Google will soon have added medical detail.

Health-related topics on Google will soon have added medical detail.

Published Oct 22, 2013

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Cape Town - A new scam is holding computers hostage and the only way out is to pay a sizeable ransom.

Many Cape Town users have fallen into a digital trap after receiving a phone call from a conman claiming to be a Microsoft technician.

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IT specialist and World Wide Worx founder Arthur Goldstuck told the Cape Argus: “It always starts the same way, they say: ‘We have detected a major fault on your Windows computer’, or ‘your Windows computer has been flagged in connection with illegal activity’.”

Unsuspecting victims are told to follow a set of steps to “fix” the problem. But instead they end up installing software that gives the conman control over the computer.

Goldstuck said not only would the scammer have access to everything from pictures and documents to e-mail accounts and Facebook profiles, but they could effectively shut down the system.

“That’s when they start asking for money to unlock the computer.”

Over the past two weeks, the Cape Argus received numerous telephone calls from people targeted by the scam.

Some users suspected something was wrong and promptly hung up on the conman, while others followed the steps but could not make out the conman’s instructions through his “thick Indian accent”.

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Another confused user said he did not even own a computer.

Those who completed the process found their computers became unusable – booting up into blank screens or inexplicably downloading random files on to their hard drives.

They received regular calls and “invoices” demanding up to R1 000 to unlock the computer.

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Goldstuck said the scam was not limited to the “system lockout” and could also be used to install invasive software such as key loggers and malware which passed on important information to the scammer. The only way out is to bring in an expert to remove the software or erase the hard drive.

“Many people just lose all common sense when faced with computer issues. You should treat your computer as you would your bank account. You simply do not give away those details over the phone.”

He urged victims of the scam to report it to the police.

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Microsoft SA did not respond to queries sent by the Cape Argus. - Cape Argus

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