Someone attempted to scam me earlier today.
I got a call on my landline this morning from an unknown number. It was an 800 number and I decided to answer it.
Right away, I could tell that it was probably a scammer.
The voice on the other end was not a live person but a computer voice, and not a really a good one. The grammar was off as well, which is often an indicator that it’s coming from overseas hackers/scammers.
The robot voice indicated that they were calling from Apple and said that my iCloud account had been compromised and I could speak to a representative to rectify the problem.
By this time, I was 99.9% sure this was a scam attempt but I thought, “ok, lets’ see where this goes.” So I pressed “1” to connect to a “representative”.
I was quickly connected to someone who introduced himself as an Apple technician.
According to the “representative”, my iCloud account had been accessed in two different overseas locations. He asked if I was aware of this activity. I said I wasn’t.
Though not overtly stated, he was suggesting that my account had been hacked, which is a common tactic of scammers. Scammers often present you with a plausible scenario that suggests your computer or some online account has been compromised. They then offer to “fix” the problem, often for a fee. Their goal is to take advantage of the fear and anxiety they’ve created with this false scenario.
The representative then proceeded to give me instructions to fix the issue.
First, he asked me to turn my computer on.
Second he asked me to open my Chrome browser. This is interesting because if he was really from Apple I would expect him to ask me to open my Safari browser, since Safari is Apple’s proprietary browser, whereas Chrome is owned by Google. Why is he asking me to open Chrome?
Since my Chrome browser was already open, I told him “ok.”
Next, he asked me to find the large address bar at the top, referring to the space where you type in the website url.
He then asked me to type in the following url: helpme.net (Don’t type this into your browser!)
At this point, I’m extremely suspicious and I googled the website he was asking me to go to.
Included in the results were words like “scam”, “fake” and “redirect”.
The purpose of the scam he was running was to get me to go to a site where he can get control of my computer, under the guise of looking for malicious files. The reality is that he wants control so he can place malware into my system.
The resulting malware could be ransomware – a technique where the computer is essentially locked up until you pay the ransom for them to remove it, or it could be spyware, software designed to steal sensitive information like passwords or financial account numbers. A third type of malware infects your computer with unwanted ads and solicitation. The scammers, passing themselves off as legitimate computer technicians will “disinfect” your computer of viruses, for a fee of course.
As I did more research on this site later, I learned that malware can often be introduced to your computer via Google Chrome extensions. I think this is the reason he was asking me to open Chrome instead of Safari.
The scammer mentioned some things I should be seeing after entering the url into my browser. I was actually googling and reading the results of this website he wants me to visit so I’m definitely not seeing what he wants me to see. I tell him, “I don’t see that.”
“Well, what do you see?” he asked.
“I see from google that this site you want me to go to is a redirect site used by scammers.”
At this point, the scammer got a bit flustered and in his comments back to me, he called me “Ma’am.”
I told him, “I’m not a ma’am.”
“Well, SIR”, he said with derision, “you sound like a (expletive)” – rhymes with “witch” but with a “b”.
I said “Whoa! You really work for Apple?” knowing that a person who really worked for a reputable company like Apple or Microsoft wouldn’t use foul language and wouldn’t respond with such disrespect.
The scammer replied, “NO! F Apple!” (yes, he said the word).
There were some more choice words communicated before the scammer hung up on me.
So how can you protect yourself from the Robocall scam?
First, realize that anyone who is calling you unsolicited to help you “fix” your computer is almost certainly a scammer. Apple, Microsoft, Google and others don’t call customers offering to fix their computers. Instead, if you think there’s an issue with your computer, they expect you to reach out to them. In fact, most software companies don’t have the resources to contact users directly. They contact you only if you’ve submitted some kind of support ticket, in which you’ve outlined your issue in detail.
Secondly, never give a person who calls you unsolicited, claiming to be technical support, any personal information and never give them access to your computer. Entering website addresses they give you is one way you can inadvertently give access to your computer or unknowingly download malware that infects your computer.
The best course of action if you receive a an unsolicited call regarding your computer or your Social Security number or anything else that is personal in nature is to simply hang up. If you have the ability to block the number, you can do so but keep in mind that scammers will simply change the number they call from and so you can never truly block them.
If you are having issues with your computer or you’re afraid that you’ve been the victim of a computer scam, take your computer to an authorized repair technician for your particular computer brand. Don’t ever allow someone to try to “fix” your computer over the phone, especially if they’ve called you unsolicited. This is almost assuredly a scam from someone who is trying to grift you for money or phish for personal information that is often sold and used in identity theft.
Roboscams are likely to continue as scammers find new and creative ways to con you into giving them your money or other sensitive information. You can largely insulate yourself from these scams just by hanging up on any unsolicited calls from unknown numbers. If you’re worried that something is wrong with your computer or device, take it to an authorized dealer for inspection and repair.