The phone rang.
I picked up.
The voice on the other end of the line asked me if I was ‘Mr Hands?’
“No,” I said, “Mr Hands doesn’t live here anymore” (Mr Hands is the previous owner of my property).
“To whom am I speaking?” The lady asked (in an Indian accent)
“To whom am I speaking?” I asked
“This is Anna. I am calling because you have recently reported having trouble with your computer and I am ringing to help you…” Anna replied.
“Really?” I said, “and how do you know I have been having problems with my computer?”
“As I said, it has been reported recently…”
“Well I haven’t reported anything and I don’t think my wife has…”
“No sir, you see it has been reported to us automatically through the net – you have been having computer problems and that automatically informed our servers…”
“Really? OK, I suppose that’s possible. Can you tell me which company you work for?”
Anna proceeded to tell me the name of her company** and that she was ringing to help and could she pass me over to one of her engineers so that he could help me further. As it happens, I have recently changed the disk on my PC which has caused some problems, so I actually have been having some problems with my computer. Having recently tried all sorts of software updates and fixes, it was conceivable that their company did get some kind of notification from my computer via the internet. I will go on to explain later that I don’t actually think they did in the end but this was effectively a cold call – i.e. it’s a pretty safe bet if they make lots of these calls that most people will have had some kind of problems with their computers.
“Sir, if you have your computer handy I will prove it to you the recent problems you have been having then we will be able to help you with those…” Anna continued.
Anna asked me to run the program ‘Eventvwr’ via the Start -> Run option.
In the Event Viewer program a list of application, system and other ‘events’ are shown, effectively all of the actions you have taken on your PC shown chronologically.
“If you scroll down sir, do you see any warnings or errors?”
“Yes I do…”
(In fact it’s a pretty safe bet that almost anyone would have some warnings and errors showing in their event viewer but without me telling you this, it makes for a pretty believable story and in my case as I did have a couple of tricky errors I particularly wanted solving… so I continued to listen)
“Well sir, these errors explain a little why your PC has been running slower lately and if left unchecked these errors can cause irreparable damage to your computer causing you to lose all of your data and programs. Has your PC been running slower at all lately?”
“Well, now that you come to mention it…”
I then agreed for Anna to pass me over to an engineer.
A very softly spoken chap who was very helpful. Slowly and carefully and with my finger always poised to press the standby button, I allowed the engineer to have remote access to my PC so that he could show me my problems and help me fix them. We did this by browsing to an internet page and running a piece of software to facilitate the remote access – by providing the engineer with an ID and password generated by this software I gave him access to my PC. He then controlled the mouse pointer and did various things designed to impress me and show his credentials as a PC engineer – for example:
“First we will make your PC run faster…” he then searched for the ‘My Computer’ icon…
“Why don’t you have a my computer icon on your desktop?” he asked.
“I removed it,” I said, “I didn’t need it there…”
“OK sir, no problem, no problem…”
“Though you should be able to find ‘My computer’ if you know what you’re doing…” I added quietly and helpfully, almost to myself…
“Sure, no problem, no problem…” he said
I did notice that he clicked around a bit longer than I would have expected for a PC expert suggesting to me perhaps he was working from a script which preferred things to be in the default places however he did find the ‘My Computer’ software eventually and was back on track (he got there in a weird way by typing ‘%temp%’ in the Start -> Run option even though I told him he could get there via control panel or Windows Explorer…
He then proudly made my computer faster “You will see…” he said by clicking on the ‘best performance’ option under My Computer -> Advanced Settings -> Performance …
The engineer explained to me that the problems I was having were caused by spyware and demonstrated this by downloading some ‘free’ optimization software** from the internet (I’m pretty sure this wasn’t from his company or any company he was affiliated with – you can get lots of these programs from the internet which all do pretty much the same thing as I will explain…). He also explained that the reason that my current virus software had not solved any of my problems is that it was only looking for viruses (true enough) and not spyware.
I told the engineer of two specific problem I wanted fixing and explained to him that if he could fix my two very specific problem then he would have convinced me.
With the anti-spyware software** still running in the background, the engineer asked me to hold the line whilst he spoke to a more experienced senior engineer, his supervisor, to see if they could help with my two specific problems (promising!).
The supervisor then came on the phone and explained that my two specific problems were caused by drivers being broken and I wouldn’t be able to get any further with my system without re-installing the operating system which they could do for me. He then proceeded with a more classic sales pitch telling me all the things he could give me for a special price which would include the upgrade or fixing of my operating system as I preferred.
As this guy sounded more knowledgeable and assured, I was more convinced with what he was telling me – again he told me “I can show you how you would do it” and went through the Device manager program to show me where I would click to upgrade various drivers – then afterward telling me the only way I could really solve the problems I was getting though would be to do a complete reinstall of the operating system and that they could do it in a special way protecting all of my programs and data so I didn’t lose anything at all, didn’t have to reinstall anything but that my problems would be fixed. He told me about many many other things that they would include in the price and started selling me a yearly support package.
I stopped him in his tracks.
“I don’t want it,” I said, “You said it could be solved by upgrading my operating system so tell me your best price for that…”
He eventually agreed that I could take a one off incident and the price reduced from £80 to £40 – the £40 would also include the price of a legitimate copy of Windows Vista I was told.
So I agreed to it.
During the process of giving my card details I stopped.
Typing my name and card details into a chat box didn’t feel comfortable.
So I started telling him these over the phone instead.
An aside: This man like the other two had a very distinct Indian accent (I know Indian accents very well having worked with a lot of Indians in my banking career).
Then I stopped again.
I explained to the supervisor that I was uncomfortable giving my card details in this way, that his chat box didn’t even have fields for entering the card details which was odd – that I didn’t know who he was and you couldn’t be too careful these days.
He said he completely understood and proceeded to tell me his credentials and his companies…
“How about you give me your details and I will ring you back?” I offered.
He didn’t seem to want to accept this at first but then changed and became very friendly again…
“I will give you my direct line number so you can get straight through to me” – he proceeded to give me his number – “you can call me any time” he said most helpfully – “ring this number and you will come straight through to me.”
“Er, can I ask your name?” I asked – I do believe he was actually going to let me go without giving me his name at all…
“Yes, of course sir, my name is Karl.”
“Karl?” I asked.
“Yes sir, Karl.” he replied in his distinctive Indian accent.
“…and can I ask your surname Karl?”
“Yes sir, it is Smith. Karl Smith.”
I did tell Mr Smith that he didn’t sound particularly like a Karl Smith but who am I to judge…
After I said my goodbyes to Mr Smith, about 30 minutes later Anna called me back from the same company** saying I had been disconnected and would I like to resume the call. I told her I was not disconnected and that I’d told her colleague I needed a few days to think about it and would call back if I wanted to proceed. She asked me when she should expect my call. I told her she shouldn’t expect anything, I would call if I needed to.
After the call had ended and I returned to my computer to see the anti-spyware software had finished it’s scan it told me it had found hundreds of errors that needed fixing and if I wanted top fix them I could click a button to register, pay for the software and fix the errors right away – i.e. the software wasn’t really free at all.
It doesn’t have to be PC support, it could be that you’ve qualified for a free holiday, a free government grant for loft insulation (recently this is quite a common call), saving money on your utilities bills, your mobile phone bill. Be very wary of these calls. Be very wary of any call where someone rings you as opposed to you ringing them. Always ask for their names, their company details and look for signs that they are not as genuine as they seem.
In the case above I do believe it was probably a case of a services company trying to sell their service with what amounted to a very sophisticated cold call (i.e. by making it seem like it wasn’t a cold call and trying to convince me that the solution was one tailored to me and my specific issues which they were familiar with). The point is it could have been more than that – it could have been someone looking to abuse my credit card details or commit identity fraud.
In the above call there were some clues:
- getting my name wrong to start with (I think they must have got the house owners name from a directory such as the electoral register) – though this would usually be the right name as we have only moved here recently – so don’t assume just because someone knows your name that they are more genuine – think the opposite. How do they know your name? Where did they get it?
- the engineer seemed like he was operating according to a fairly standard procedure (he got a little lost when he didn’t find the ‘My computer’ icon in the usual place – watch out for people operating like they are following a script – ask them questions to check that they really are listening to your genuine case
- the supervisor’s name sounded false – I have never met an Indian called ‘Smith’ – check the name and credentials of whoever you are speaking to.
A final and very important point – if the company is genuine you can always ring back.
It pays to take a little time – even 24 hours, to research the company, convince yourself and then if you still want to go ahead, get back in touch.
DON’T FEEL PRESSURED TO BUY ANYTHING ON THE SPOT.
If you feel pressured to buy, then something is not right and this should tell you that it’s not worth buying. Any deal, purchase or service if it’s genuine will still be there tomorrow.
Or the next day.
Alternatively, if you’re not sure you can always just not take the call in the first place.
** – I have omitted the names of the companies involved as the purpose of this article is to warn people rather than go on a witch hunt against those companies or cause a scandal. Our advice would be to exercise caution with these particular companies however (though they are not the only ones out there) so if you do wish to know the names of the companies involved, get in touch using our contact form and we will let you know.