Don't fall for the Microsoft Windows scam

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Lobster telephone in Lego

The phone rings and it is Rihanna. I am really excited. Even if I couldn't hum a single one of her songs, I know she is dead famous! And she features on all those websites where you can waste all day reading about celebs and their antics.

Why is she calling me? Does she want investment advice? Is she the victim of a scam?



Within a second or so, I am back down to earth. This Rihanna is a woman working in an Indian call centre – there's the usual buzz in the background. And she's not a Rihanna at all, because they are all told to take on Western sounding names. Perhaps she had a sense of humour in selecting her false identity.

But I had to listen to her because she said this was "an emergency call"! What's happened? Is someone hurt? Has there been an accident?

The emergency turned out to be less dramatic. Rihanna said the urgent call was from Windows Care Support and it was to alert me that her organisation had received notification that my computer had been hacked.

How could she know that – unless she was hacking into my computer herself? The answer, she claimed, was that my computer identification number was registered with Microsoft. She informed me that every computer had a "secure licence ID number" and that it was so confidential that only the owner of the machine and Microsoft could possibly know it.

It was automatically matched up to a list of machines that had been compromised. Therefore, I had received her emergency warning call.

"So if these numbers are so confidential, how do you know them? And how is my phone number linked to my computer?", I asked.

I did not get any answers to these questions, let alone any response when I told her that my computer does not run on Microsoft Windows. This is true – my operating system is Linux-based, so even with the best will in the world Windows would be of no use.

In any case, despite my queries and objections, she just ploughed on with her script, telling me of the horrors that could arise because my computer was no longer safe. And she added that the problem could have easily spread to every computer in the household.

This was frightening stuff. But Rihanna reassured me that she could solve my problems.
"I can fix the errors and notifications provided you help me do this." Helping Rihanna would involve turning on the machine, and allowing her remote access, a legitimate operation only when you can totally trust the person on the other end who is helping with your computer.

I told Rihanna that I found it all very hard, if not impossible, to believe. She suddenly became remarkably frank. "Most people don't believe it. They don't want to believe it. But those who trust us have a problem-free computer, while those who don't will have to live with all the hacking and a huge number of viruses."

Despite her assertion, I obviously did not believe a word of this because it is such a well-established scam. It has nothing to do with Microsoft (who are rather fed up of dealing with this continuing racket) but everything to do with putting malware, such as a virus, on my computer via the remote access and then charging me £199 to remove it.

Loads of people sadly do believe it – especially older folk who tend to be less cynical than youngsters – and they pay their money for about five minutes' work in putting on the evil stuff and then removing it.

I asked her for a business address. She provided me with one with a postcode in Bristol. This turned out to be a block of studio flats which Bristol University uses as accommodation for students and others who need somewhere to stay for between three weeks and a term. Rihanna claimed she was studying for a part-time masters degree.

Finally, I said: "Do your parents know what you do for a living? Do you think they would be proud or ashamed of a daughter who tries to swindle Europeans, often elderly people?"

She chose to remain silent and then terminated the call.

Revealed: The 10 most common scams

Revealed: The 10 most common scams

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