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Beware of cold call scammers pushing rogue antivirus

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Malware-pushing scammers appear to be stepping up their use of telephone-based pitches, resulting in an increase in reports from the UK of high-pressure cold calls designed to trick people into installing rogue antivirus products and other nasties.

Over the past few weeks, at least two people close to The Reg — including reporter Bill Ray, who has seen his share of scams — have received the dire warnings that their PCs are riddled with malware that can be purged with just a few clicks directed by the person on the other end. On Friday, antivirus provider Eset UK, citing an increase in the calls, warned computer users to remain vigilant.

The pitches vary, but they generally involve a professional-sounding person who may be calling from a phone center who warns that malware has been detected and is now attacking other computers. Skeptical receivers may be asked to open the Windows event viewer for proof of infection before ultimately being asked to give the caller remote access through logmein123.com or other services. Eventually, the scammers will install rogue antivirus software or other malware that is extremely difficult to remove.

The scammers are undaunted when would-be victims say they don't need help from a perfect stranger calling over the phone from heaven knows where.

“Turn your computer on and in a few clicks we can sort it out for you,” one caller told a family member of Paul Young, an IT employee at Sophos, another UK-based antivirus provider. The scammer knew her name and number even though her phone wasn't listed. Shortly after hanging up, she received another call from someone claiming to be working for a different company, who used slightly different tactics.

Of course, when Young inspected the PC later, he found no signs of any infection.

The scam has been going on for more than a year, but other than the domain names, supportonclick.com, go4sapling.com and metsupport.com, researchers say they know little about the people behind the calls.

Once upon a time, malware pushers thrived off of vulnerabilities built into Microsoft Windows and the applications that ran on top of it. As software companies have gotten better at locking down their products, crooks resorted to popups designed to trick marks into installing the malicious wares. Now, with the cost of calls at an all-time low, it's only natural the scams would move to cold calls.

Eset says the scammers charge up to £79 to install the malware, which often masquerades as titles from legitimate antivirus providers. ®

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