Poet on a Hill

Wednesday, 23 September 2009


The End is Nigh

I’m in the garden, pottering. Liz appears at the door, holding the phone out to me. ‘For you,’ she says. This is obviously urgent. I don’t take unsolicited calls and she knows it. ‘It’s a Windows technician,’ she tells me.

‘Double glazing?’ I growl.

‘Computers,’ she mouths.

I take the phone gingerly. Anything to do with computers gives me the squits. ‘What?’ I wonder.

‘Mr Gregory?’ a female asks. ‘I’m from the Windows Technical Department.’ She’s obviously in India. She works for Windows, US of A. And she knows my name; the computer age at its very best. ‘You’ve got it in one,’ I tell her.

‘I am calling to warn you that your system has been hacked. How many computers do you have in the house?’

‘Three.’ I’m walking into the house now.

‘I am afraid your system has been taken over by criminals; hackers, using it for criminal activity.’

‘Eh?!’ The squits are accelerating.

‘Go to any computer and boot up,’ she tells me.

I do as she orders. ‘Have you noticed that it has been running slower recently?’ she asks.

‘Yeah. It drives me up the wall,’ I tell her.

‘Oh my God. That’s because more and more hackers are getting in and taking over; all their activity will be traced back to you.’

‘How did that happen?’ I’m way out of my depth here.

‘They have disabled your Windows Security. I will hand you over to a technician. He will come to your rescue.’

‘Hmm?’ Scratches head.

‘Mr Gregory?’ It’s a man this time. ‘Bombay Duck,’ says the voice in my head. ‘That’s where all the best helplines are,’ I tell the voice. ‘We’re in good hands here.’

‘What’s going on?’ I want to know.

‘I’ll show you the problem,’ says my new friend. ‘Click the “start” button … now click “run” … now type “Prefetch Unwanted” in the window that appears.’

I obey blindly. This is new ground to me. I’m a country walk man. I listen to birds and look at cows and things.

A page appears on the screen; an endless list of files with meaningless names. ‘Don’t touch any of the files,’ he warns. ‘They have been put there by hackers. They will use your machine to organise bank robberies and other criminal activities. Are there are any warning signs on the page?’ he wants to know.

‘A few dozen,’ I tell him.

‘Oh my God. This computer will crash tomorrow. The other two will follow within a week. Your whole system has been hacked. You will have no computer in the house. Look – I will prove it to you.

Go into “My computer”’ he tells me ... Now he tells me to, ‘Right click on this … Left click on that …’ opening and closing various windows as he takes me through the device’s enslaved mind …

This journey into the unknown has been going on for well over half an hour and we’re not making any progress. If he’s “Windows” why doesn’t he either fix the problem or take me to someone who will? Either that or start hacking the hackers.

Nevertheless it all seems very feasible. This particular computer always seems to be getting bogged down with downloads. And we are always getting bombarded with warnings about identity theft and computer fraud.

However, that single sentence, ‘I will prove it to you,’ rings alarm bells. Technicians don’t talk like that. Technicians just do things. ‘I will prove it to you,’ is sales-speak.

But now he has taken me to a window that tells me that my “Windows Security is Disabled.” This is worrying. ‘There,’ he tells me. ‘They have disabled your windows security and taken over your computer.’

‘But I have McAfee,’ I argue.

‘McAfee is purely for viruses,’ he tells me. ‘These people are hackers – criminals.’

‘So do something,’ I tell him.

‘That is what I am here for. I will hand you over to the Windows Technical Department,’ he assure me. ‘They will save your computers. Simply go to, “Start” … Then “Run” … and type in “www.tech-on-support.com” … Our technicians will fix everything.’

I do this and a website appears on my screen. ‘Dial the number at the top of the page and you will be through to a Windows Technician,’ he tells me.

‘But I thought you were the Windows tech … hello?’ But he has gone. I look at the number … 0186 552 1065. And below it in big letters is the announcement “Free Computer Repairs £60.”

Free repairs? £60? I like that; Free – only £60; very Indian.

I don’t ring the number. The scam is now crystal clear so I hang fire. Sure enough, about ten minutes or so later, our phone rings. My sales friend obviously wonders why I have not taken up his offer. I don’t answer. I take a wander to PC World instead.

The technicians in PC World are well aware of the scam. But, of course, it’s not their job to turn detective. Sometimes this guy says he’s from Windows, sometimes Microsoft and sometimes PC World. But he’s not from any of them – he’s from Cuckoo-land. And he’s filling your head with cuckoo shit.

I take a look at the Microsoft Forums and find that loads of people have had the same problem with tech-on-support and the sales scam. And that’s the big consolation. This guy is the daddy-of-all-losers. He spends between half an hour and an hour on the phone with his potential suckers. But no one ever seems to buy what he’s selling.

So don’t fall for it. For those of you with a caller display facility, the number he’s calling from (in the UK) is 012030519993. Don’t answer it, and save an hour of your life. Unless, that is, you feel sorry for him and decide to slip him 60 quid. Or better still, answer the phone – and keep him waiting on the line for as long as you can.

Charlie Gregory