Internet users are being warned to watch for criminal 'cold-callers' getting them to pay for and download malicious software by exploiting their security concerns.
‘Get Safe Online’, an initiative from the government, in partnership with law enforcement and private businesses, has drawn attention to this latest scam after finding that one in four UK web users have been targeted.
The fraudsters contact consumers at home and pose as IT support from legitimate computer companies. They try to sell fake security software, or warn users their machine has caught a virus and say they will need to pay for it to be fixed.
In most cases, the main goal is to get credit card information or to secure remote control of the victim’s computer in order to launch phishing attacks and commit identity theft.
James Armstrong, a farmer from East Lothian, Scotland experienced such a phone call last week.
He says: “The cold-callers got in touch and said ‘Windows has reported your computer has a virus. If you go and switch your computer on now we can talk you through how to get rid of it.’ Luckily I told them I wasn’t computer literate enough to go through all that and they would have to call back when my children were in.”
Dr Emily Finch criminologist at the University of Surrey, says the nature of these calls shows a worrying change in fraudsters’ behaviour.
“The general public is more internet security-aware than it was five years ago and criminals are tapping into this. Rather than exploiting our ignorance they are actively using our knowledge and fear of online threats to their advantage,” she says.
In recent cases gangs employing up to 400 people have set up their own call centres so they are able to target people en masse.
They can also used a web-based approach, which sends out thousands of anti-virus messages and only requires a small success rate to make a profit.
Tony Neate managing director at GetSafeOnline.org, says: “Web users should ignore cold calls from companies offering free virus checks and be very cautious of on-screen pop ups. Most reputable IT providers don’t approach customers in this way without prior notice or a direct request.”
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