The Talented Mr Steve

So this happened…

Gently photoshopped building ('BLDG') signThe phone rings. The caller id says “STS” from 949-203-0674. I know who it is; I track scam phone numbers: it’s a hobby when you work from home. I answer.

“Hi, this is Julian.”

Clicks, buzzes, then: “Hello, this is Steve from [somefakename]’s Tech Support Department.”

“Oh, yes?”

“We’ve noticed that something is wrong with your computer. My error report says it is no longer updating.”

“Interesting. Which one?”


“I have three I use regularly. Which one?”

A worried silence.

“Look, all my computers have unique names. Surely your error report gives the computer name.”

“No.” Furious thinking, almost a hum on the line. “The guys in the server room don’t release that information to us.”

Ooh, nice comeback.

“Maybe it’s not my computer. What’s the IP address for the error report? Surely, it gives you that? Otherwise how do you match up the computer to my phone number?”

He’s getting a little more worried now. Glibness pays off again.

“They don’t give us that. Besides which all your computers are using the same IP address.”

Clever! Avoiding the question, but I’m starting to like this scam artist. I’m actually doing some development using a couple of machines at this moment, but before I say anything, he comes back with:

“It’s for the Windows System. It is no longer updating.”

Neat answer: coincidentally I’m running a Windows laptop and a MacBook Pro. The fun of Xamarin, dont’cha know. I play him along a little bit more.

“Oh dear. Which version of Windows are you talking about?”

“Windows 7.”

“Oh, good. I’m running Windows 8.1.”

“It’s for that one.”

Major overreach. Time to smack him a little more.

“In fact I just pulled up Windows Update, and as I thought Tuesday was Windows Update day for October and I updated everything. The screen also tells me that it checked for updates this morning as well and there were none.”

“This has happened since then. I’ll show you.”

At this point I was done. His script would then have gone like this: start a Command Prompt, type such-and-such command into it, which starts up Event Viewer, point out all the scary events in it (all of which are pretty boring and mundane, but catalogued like Warning and Error), persuade me to download an app that’ll allow him to take over my machine, when he installs malware and convinces me to pony up $300 for something to remove it. Bzzzt, got better things to do with my life.

“So, to recap. Your error report says that a Windows computer here is no longer updating properly. Yet you cannot say which computer it is, or even what my IP address is such that it would lead you to believe that one of my computers is at fault. You can’t even get the Windows version right. You can’t even say how you’ve married up this rogue computer of mine with my telephone number leading you to phone me in the first place. In short, you are lying to me and I think you’d better go find another sucker to defraud. Bye.”

“Thank you and goodbye.” Click.

At least he was polite to the end.

Seriously – and I’m not talking to my tech readers here who already know this – if someone phones you up out of the blue saying there’s something wrong with your computer, stop and think: how have they matched up your computer with your phone number? Not possible, my friends. It’s a scam, pure and simple. But once they have persuaded you to install something you know nothing about on your PC, they own it. Period. You’ll be fleeced to get it back. So don’t let them.

Blog security patrol

Album cover for The Royal ScamNow playing:
Steely Dan - The Royal Scam
(from The Royal Scam)

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4 Responses

#1 Will Watts said...
19-Oct-14 2:54 AM

Well done. Baiting (and bating) this class of scammer has for some years been a popular sport in the UK. Tying them up in their own logical knots is a form of pleasurable duty of the technically aware, I think, to reduce the amount of time and enthusiasm they have to practise on the vulnerable.

Excuse me for boasting, but last outing I went 8 minutes with a member of 'Microsoft Special Support', dutifully following his instructions faithfully as delivered, before he discovered my laptop ran Ubuntu.

#2 Marcel Popescu said...
19-Oct-14 11:06 AM

Hmm... I've never heard of anything like that in my country; I guess our scammers aren't that sophisticated yet :)

#3 Paul said...
19-Oct-14 1:49 PM

I actually recorded one similar one day, I let them take me through lots of things (wasting their time), before he said "oh, aren't you smart!" then he hung up. I've taught all my friends to say they are running Linux, that usually gets them off the line pretty quick.

#4 Rob said...
24-Nov-14 4:18 AM

My wife let them explain the whole thing, how they were going to help her fix the problem, then informed them "I think I understand, my computer isn't getting Microsoft updates... I guess that's good, it's a Mac"

Reply was "This isn't for you" and hung up.

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