You pick up the phone and a cold caller claims they are from Windows Support. According to the friendly voice at the end of the line, they have scanned your PC and found a malware infection or virus.
Luckily for you, however, they caught it in time and resolving the issue won't take long -- as soon as you hand over your account credentials, financial details, or install "software" which is actually malware that compromises your system.
Panic sets in, and the victims -- most likely not tech-savvy -- who trust the "support member" may find their accounts compromised or bank accounts rinsed. Unfortunately, once an unwitting victim gives the fraudsters what they are after, they are gone.
These kinds of Windows Support scams are international and remain profitable enough that call centers are dedicated to such schemes.
While it may be a source of amusement for those who understand these are scams to torment their fraudsters and keep them on the line as long as possible, it is a very real and serious problem.
However, one developer has declared war on these types of scammers and wants to wipe them out entirely with the help of a bot army.
Programmer Roger Anderson from the Jolly Roger Telephone Company recently revealed that he created a slew of bots programmed to waste as much of the operator's time as possible.
Anderson, known for the Jolly Roger bot which intercepts scam robocalls and creates never-ending loops to keep the calls away from legitimate people, has stocked the bot army with a variety of pre-recorded conversations and responses.
One, for example, is a man nattering about his horoscope and candles, while another keeps the scammer on the line while he drops his phone continually. To keep operators from becoming suspicious too quickly, the bots spew out common phrases such as "hello?" and "hmm?," as well as featuring real-life situations such as a woman who argues with her children while on the line.
In each, you can hear the operator's rising frustration in their voices -- perhaps only a small fraction of the upset, frustration and annoyance these scams cause victims, but a little justice nonetheless.
"I'm getting ready for a major initiative to shut down Windows Support," the programmer says. "It's like wack-a-mole, but I'm getting close to going nuclear on them."
"As fast as you can report fake "you have a virus call this number now" messages to me, I will be able to hit them with thousands of calls from bots. It's like when the pirate ship turns "broadside" on an enemy in order to attack with all cannons simultaneously. I'll call it a "Broadside" campaign against Windows Support and the fake IRS," Anderson added.
The bots were built after Anderson noticed a popup on his PC 10 days ago which said his computer was infected with malware. This is a common way that scammers operate; if not a cold call, then adware or fraudulent ads on websites will inform you that malware has been found and you must ring a number to have it removed by Windows Support.
After calling the number and discovering it was "Microsoft Technical Department," the programmer called the number again from different IDs and was routed to the same call center.
After clarifying the call center's purpose, Anderson then "pounded it into the ground" with botnet calls. After roughly 300 robotic exchanges, the number was disconnected.
"Please enjoy these experimental calls and we can anticipate the day when these call centers are all gone because of one pirate attacking them safely from off-shore," Anderson says.
Listening to the calls does give you a measure of satisfaction and we can only hope that fighting these kinds of scams in such novel ways can lessen their impact on unwitting victims. If you come across one these scams yourself, you can give the details to Jolly Roger and Anderson will make sure they get their comeuppance.