TORONTO – When Orangeville, Ont., resident Joel Mantel answered his phone in the middle of dinner last week, he was in the mood for some fun.
“I thought to myself ‘it’s probably just another telemarketer,’” the 23-year-old said.
But the person on the phone claimed they were calling from Microsoft, explaining to Mantel that his computer needed fixing and that he should follow their instructions.
Unfortunately for the scammers, Mantel was all too familiar with the so called “Fake Microsoft” scam, which has been plaguing consumers for years.
The scam sees users tricked into thinking they’re on the phone with a Microsoft representative; if they fall for it, the user could end up giving scammers access to their computer. In some cases, the scammers hold the user’s data hostage and demand a ransom for its release.
Mantel, who previously worked as a technician, had seen many trusting consumers fall victim to the scam.
So he decided to turn the tables on them. “I pretended to follow their instructions just to waste their time and make them frustrated,” Mantel told Global News.
For nearly ten minutes, Mantel pretended to be a 45-year-old man with limited computer knowledge, painstakingly asking for the scam artist to feed him simple instructions and pretending to worry about a virus on his computer.
“I didn’t even have a computer in front of me,” he said. “I was just tapping on the dinner table pretending to type.”
He even enlisted the help of his father, who pretended to be a police officer listening in on the call.
Eventually, Mantel managed to turn the conversation around on the scammers, leaving them frustrated and defensive as he accused them of being scam artists.
LISTEN: Mantel’s recording of the fake Microsoft scam
But Mantel, who recorded the entire conversation on his iPhone, hopes the conversation will be a lesson for those in the dark about these scams.
“I’ve seen personally how it affects consumers and it can honestly mess with people – it’s blackmail on your own computer. Working in retail you hear the horror stories of people falling for these things. Once a week it seemed to come up in conversation,” he said.
“I just thought the longer I kept them on the phone, the longer I was preventing someone else from being scammed.”
Scam has plagued consumers for years
The fake Microsoft scam has been around for years. In fact, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fronted a major crackdown on the scam in 2012, but both U.S. and Canadian citizens continue to report receiving similar calls.
Even Microsoft has a security warning on its website advising customers about the scam.
According to Microsoft’s website, if you follow the scammers instructions they can trick you into installing malicious software, convince you to visit malicious websites that gain control of your computer (which is what scammers appear to be instructing Mantel to do in his audio recording) and trick you into handing over your credit card information.
READ MORE: Phone scam targets computer users
Mantel reported the phone call to the RCMP Anti-Fraud Centre, who said they are well aware of the ongoing scam.
“I don’t recommend anyone to listen and follow someone’s directions over the phone unless you know they can be trusted. I know that Microsoft would never call me unless I called them first,” he said.
Consumers should be especially wary if the person says they work for a “legitimate company,” Mantel said.
“Protect yourself, ask questions and don’t allow strangers into your home online,” he said.
What you need to know
If you do receive a call that you think is suspicious, don’t give the representative any information.
According to Microsoft, scam artists may identify themselves as representatives from the Windows Helpdesk, Windows Service Center, Microsoft Tech Support or Microsoft Research and Development Team.
If you do fall victim to a scam and your information is encrypted, take your computer to a technician as soon as possible. Don’t pay a ransom to have your information unlocked.
You can report any suspicious calls to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre by calling 1-888-495-8501 or by going to antifraudcentre.ca.