Tuesday, June 12, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Microsoft scams you must avoid

I’d like to think I would have caught onto the scam anyway, but the truth is I finally hung up on a man with an Indian accent who said he was from Microsoft and needed to repair my computer because he was pushy, and I wanted to get back to doing what I was doing, sitting on the back porch enjoying the evening breeze.

It was only after I started thinking about the call that I Googled Microsoft scams.

And there it was, a report, actually a lot of reports, about exactly what happened: A call from Microsoft saying my computer was sending out an unusually high number of error reports.

The initial caller handed me off to his supervisor, who wanted me to go into the start menu and open the run application, type in “eventvwr” and open the application error log under applications. I asked for proof that Microsoft was actually calling and was told that if I would only look at all the errors that I would know they were legitimate.

“May I ask you a question?” the supervisor said. “Is your computer really on? We can’t help you if your computer isn’t turned on.”

“It’s always on,” I told him.

“Do you use your computer on the Internet?” he demanded.

“I’m a reporter. I write on my computer and e-mail my stories and use the Internet for research like for lawsuits,” I told him.

His tone was threatening, and I wanted him to know that just because I didn’t know computer lingo that didn’t mean I trusted him because he did.

Again I asked, “How do I know you’re from Microsoft?” and I was handed off to another supervisor with instructions to scroll slowly and look for error messages.

But there were no error messages, so I asked if they intended to charge me for the repair to my computer that they said was necessary. The answer was that if my computer was out of warranty, they would charge me.

My computer is six years old, five years out of warranty and working just fine. So I hung up and went back outside. Being southern, I hated to do it, but something about the whole call was a little off, and I had no intention of paying for repairs for a problem that seemed nonexistent.

The Google search turned up several websites with warnings about the scam that apparently started about three years ago.

The one I liked best was posted in May and quoted an article in the Los Angeles Times that said Microsoft never calls about error reports. Those reports might be used to improve Microsoft products, but if you need tech help, you call them. They don’t call you.

It also included this good advice from the director of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing division, “Treat callers as you would treat strangers on the street. Do not disclose personal or sensitive information to anyone you don’t know.” —Joan McCoy