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Scareware scammers adopt cold call tactics

Supportonclick scam spreading

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Scareware scammers are phoning up prospective marks in an effort to frighten people into buying software that has little or no value or utility.

Rogue security (AKA scareware) packages are a growing problem. The number of such bogus packages in circulation rose from 2,850 in July to 9,287 in December 2008, tripling in number in just six months, according to the latest figures from the Anti-Phishing Working Group. Earlier this week Microsoft said that its malicious software removal tool had picked up two rogue scareware packages, FakeXPA and FakeSecSen, on more than 1.5 million PCs in the second half of 2008 alone. Some of these instances were probably trial versions of the rogue anti-malware utilities, but their sheer number illustrates the potential value of the market.

The growing trade in scareware is partly being driven by the gaming of search engines to direct surfers to sites peddling scareware. Such black-hat search engine optimisation techniques are often themed around a breaking news event, such as the Conficker worm or the recent death of actress Natasha Richardson.

While the internet has been the traditional route to market for cybercrooks peddling scareware, some have begun using high-pressure telephone sales techniques. A Reg reader said his mother got a cold call peddling scareware on Thursday. "My mum just had a call from someone claiming that there was something wrong with her computer. Luckily she was busy and called me," our reader Jamie writes.

He warned her that the ruse was a scam after searching for information on the net and finding a story by H-security on the tactic, dating back to last month. H-Security reports that scammers phone up to warn victims that their PCs are infected and might become damaged beyond repair unless they purchase security software of questionable utility.

Callers pretend to come from an outfit called supportonclick.com, according to a warning by Staffordshire Council Trading Standards (here).

Supportonclick.com is becoming notorious outside the UK.

A blog posting about Supportonclick by website developer Steven Burn reports that scammers occasionally pose as representives of the legitimate anti-malware publisher Malwarebytes. Burn lists several telephone numbers associated with the scam in locations including the US, UK, Canada and Australia. The Supportonclick.com domain is registered to Pecon Software Ltd in India.

There's more discussion on the telephone scam on Malwarebyte's forums here. And further reference to the ruse can be found at 800Notes, a site that allows people in the US to log complaints about telemarketing calls from particular numbers, here. ®

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