- You receive a call from someone (usually with a Foreign accent) that identifies him/herself as a member of Microsoft Support or Windows Support team.
- They’ll inform you that your computer is infected and sendout viruses and you have a number of critical problems with your PC and that you will need to have it fixed.
- To convince you, he offers to connect remotely and pulls up your Event Log (eventvwr.msc). He then filters for Warnings, Errors, and Critical events and uses that as evidence that your PC will soon fail to work correctly if you do not pay him to correct it.
The astute among you have probably already sensed that something here is seriously wrong, and it’s not your PC. It’s the fact that someone is calling you to tell you there is a problem with your computer. No one will ever do that. The only way they could possibly know there is a problem is by hacking or guessing.
In this case, it’s mere guesswork, and it’s not even correct most of the time. The Event Log is supposed to log warnings and errors, and even on the healthiest of PCs there are plenty of Error Events that can be safely ignored, as they often don’t amount to anything. The important thing to remember is to never trust someone who calls you about a problem with your PC, and never, EVER let them connect remotely to your PC.
If you do make the mistake of letting them connect, but then you happen to get cold feet and refuse to pay the $180+ they request via credit card, the next thing that happens isn’t pretty. This scammer proceeded to actually follow through on his promise of the PC “not working” if they don’t agree to have him fix it, and so in a few quick steps, behind the user’s back, he enacted what is known as SysKey encryption on the SAM registry hive.
SysKey encryption is a little-known feature of Windows which allows administrators to lock out access to the Security Accounts Manager (SAM) registry hive so that login specifics cannot be stolen and the PC cannot be accessed without knowing the proper credentials. The problem is, unlike other scams, there is no way around the problem; you can’t simply remove the password, as the actual SAM hive has been encrypted entirely by the process. If your Windows installation has had SysKey activated, you’ll see the following message:
This computer is configured to require a password in order to start up. Please enter the Startup Password below.
The window which appears looks like this:
The Federal Trade Commission is aware: FTC Combats Tech Support Scams