Scammers attack computers through Hotmail accounts
By GREG ALLMAIN
Federal Way Mirror reporter
July 21, 2012 · Updated 10:09 AM
A new scam has appeared recently, in which the scammers call people out of the blue and claim to work for Microsoft.
As part of the ruse, the scammers tell their potential marks that their computers are infested with viruses, and that the only way to rid the viruses is through buying an exorbitantly priced ($600) anti-virus program.
Geeks@Site, a local computer and technical support company run by Chris and Alice Stevenson, has had a number of people come into their office recently as a result of this scam.
Alice Stevenson explained one of the worst cases they've encountered so far. Scammers actually infected one man's computer with a virus.
"He didn't have a credit card to pay them off with, and so, trying to fix it was a real pain-in-the-butt, because they attacked his Hotmail, which was attached to his insurance business," Alice said. "He can't do any business with his insurance, because they hijacked his computer."
Chris Stevenson said one of the ways the scammers look to infect the computer is by gaining access to people's Hotmail accounts.
"Basically, what will happen is that a virus will come in and won't allow you to login to your Hotmail account, or even MSN account," Chris said. "So they'll go to the reset (password) link, and it will say 'Page cannot be displayed.' Now what will happen that is indicative of malware, is that page will snap right up. It won't sit and think and think and think and then say it's invalid."
Stevenson said that he became aware of this when one of the customers brought in an infected laptop and showed him that sequence of events. He then pulled out his own laptop, attempted to access the man's Hotmail and was able to do so quickly. He then reset the man's password.
One thing that these scammers will do, Stevenson noted, is add an email account of theirs to a user's "safe list," so they're alerted when the person attempts to make any changes to their settings.
As for the $600 asking price for an antivirus program, Stevenson said that should be an immediate red flag to anyone who may receive this call.
"No antivirus, I don't care what it is, costs $600 for the home user. There's just no way. Maybe for a company or enterprise, but not for a home user," he said.
Stevenson said the scammers will use high pressure tactics to try and get people to fork over the money. For instance, a scammer will tell someone that their computer literally has only 10 more minutes of use left before the fake viruses destroy the computer. Another thing Stevenson noted is that Microsoft does not have personal contact information for people.
"Microsoft doesn't know your contact information. They don't know your phone number, your address, they don't know anything," he said. "If anybody is going to call you regarding a virus, it's going to be your Internet service provider."
If a Hotmail user seems to be encountering issues with logging into an account, Stevenson advises using another computer to attempt to login, such as a computer at the library.
"Don't take your laptop, but just use a different computer completely. Chances are, 99 percent of the time, you'll get in," he said. "And then you should reset the password, make sure all the alternate emails are yours. Change stuff."
Stevenson advises anyone who may receive calls like this to just hang up. For more general security issues, he also advises people to make their passwords hard to crack. He suggests a password with both upper and lowercase letters, numerals and special characters such as * or !.
"Don't make it a word. Make it complex," he said.
Geeks@Site are located at 402 S. 333rd St., Suite B38 in Federal Way. Learn more at geeksatsite.com.
Contact Federal Way Mirror reporter Greg Allmain at email@example.com or 253-925-5565 ext. 5054.