Tech support tricksters employ new Office scam: Internet Scambusters #762
Microsoft Office is probably the most popular piece of Windows productivity software, so it's no wonder that it's also the source of a rash of new Office scams.
In this week's issue, we outline three of the latest tricks -- a bogus tech support virus, a phishing scam and a fake subscription renewal alert.
We also have a warning about phony lawn maintenance contractors who want your money without cutting the grass!
Let's get started...
Theft Risks from 3 New Microsoft Office Scams
The widespread use of one of the best-known business and productivity software suites makes it a great target in the shape of Microsoft Office scams.
We've previously warned about the risks of Office macro viruses -- malware that's triggered when automatic routines, known as macros, are run inside programs like Word and Excel -- in a past article: Macros: What They Are and How They Could Imperil You.
But that's only part of the story.
Now, it seems, the Office Suite is being used as a front for a new version of the tech support scam.
If you've ever installed one of these Office programs, you'll know that you have to activate it once it's up and running.
Activation means that your PC checks in online with Microsoft to ensure you're running a genuine version of the software that hasn't been used elsewhere.
That should be it. But in this latest scam, a window pops up again at some stage after installation warning the software hasn't been properly activated.
It might happen immediately after an installation or at any future time.
The warning takes victims through a series of screens that ask them to enter a product key or to call a toll-free number.
You can enter the correct product key as many times as you want but it won't do any good. In the end, you'll be told you must call the supposed tech support toll free number.
This will connect you with a fake tech who will ask for remote access to your PC, then present you with the news that your computer has been infected and you must pay $200 to put things right.
Once they're paid, the scammers will provide a product key which turns off their warning. Victims are left believing they've genuinely been helped!
The problem is that if you try to ignore the warning, you may find it difficult to get rid of it on your screen. It will stay on top of every other window.
However, according to a genuine tech support site (BleepingComputer.com), if you enter the key THTY4-89LK6-RTI23-XZTOP-05ERY, the screen will close.
(We can't say whether this works or not, as we don't have the virus.)
But that won't get rid of the underlying malware that is causing the trouble in the first place. Doing that is a more complex problem, which may be best left to a professional.
However, you can check out Bleeping Computer's suggested solutions in their Microsoft Office Activation Wizard Tech Support Scam Removal Guide.
The important point is that for this scam to work, your computer would have to be compromised in the first place -- that is, there must be a virus on board to run the phony activation warning.
That means you downloaded it without knowing and without having adequate protection in place.
Make sure your Internet security software is up to date and you should be protected from falling for this trouble-making and costly scam.
Office 365 Scam
Microsoft's cloud-based version of its productivity software -- Office 365 -- is also being used as a front for another scam, this time for stealing user names and passwords.
The scam seems to be mainly targeting businesses and its ultimate aim could be to steal company information by signing on to Office 365 in victims' names and then downloading their files.
It starts with an email that pretends to be from Microsoft, concerning the user's Office 365 subscription. There's a link to a fake Microsoft site which requests sign-on details.
After that, the user's account is open to be plundered by the crooks until the victim either changes the password or contacts Microsoft.
For a while, it seemed that the link in the phony email was capable of bypassing some security software.
This has likely been resolved by now but it serves as a warning. If you're an Office 365 user and receive an email like this, don't click the link but speak to your own system admins or sign on independently to your Office 365 account and check things from there.
Finally, one more Microsoft scam to alert you to.
This time, it's one of those dreaded robocalls, in this case warning that your Microsoft product -- either Office or Windows -- has expired.
Victims are told they must renew their subscription via a toll-free number.
If they call, they end up paying $100 or more as well as running the risk of having their credit card details stolen and used for identity theft.
There are a couple of important tell-tale signs that this is a scam.
First, automated calls are illegal without explicit permission from you.
Second, Windows and standalone versions of Microsoft office are not subscription-based. You never have to renew them if you don't want to (although they may become outdated or even unsupported by Microsoft).
Office 365 is subscription-based but reminders are sent out by email, not by phone. And payment is usually deducted automatically from your bank account unless you cancel it.
So, if you get this robocall, you can be sure it's an Office scam.
Alert of the Week
Is lawn maintenance becoming just too much of a chore for you? Thinking of calling in a specialist to take care of it?
Fine. But beware. Landscape maintenance scammers are out in force. They call at your home with a lawn maintenance deal that seems too good to refuse.
But refuse anyway -- at least until you've checked out the reputation of the gardener. Check to be sure they are who they say they are and ask them for two or three references plus a look at their business license.
If they're fake, they won't be prepared and won't be able to give you the information you want.
If you need lawn care, talk to friends and neighbors to identify reliable contractors.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!