PC repair chap lets tech support scammer log on to his PC. His Linux PC

Fraudster: Is this Windows? And why is it looking up my IP address?

On-Call Why look at that! Friday is upon us, which means it’s time for another instalment of On-Call, The Register’s weekly column in which readers share memories of being asked to fix odd stuff at unpleasant times of the day.

This week, meet “Shane,” who used to do a bit of computer repair work on the side, and kept a phone just for that business.

“This was back in the days when XP would regularly crap itself and need to be reinstalled every year or so, and thus such a sideline was worth the effort,” Shane explained in his mail to El Reg.

That phone rang one day and the caller proclaimed he was from Microsoft tech support and that they had detected a virus on Shane’s computer. “The irony of this obvious scam coming into that particular phone amused me enough that I played along with the scammer for a while.”

The bogus techie “proceeded to walk me through setting up VNC on my computer while I played along. Their instructions were completely useless on my Linux desktop (which contained nothing of interest beyond a few utilities for scanning, cleaning, and repairing drives from other computers – no way was I going to pull the stunt I had planned on my regular computer), but I pretended to follow them while using apt-get to install it.”

When the scammer made it into the Blackbox Linux desktop Shane was running, “you could hear the confusion in his voice when he realized that he couldn’t control anything because I’d configured VNC in view-only mode.”

“This was followed by mild panic as his own IP address appeared in a terminal.” Next, Shane did a whois lookup and then fired off an email to abuse@ for the fraudster’s ISP.

Not surprisingly the bogus techie quickly hung up, having figured out he’d tried to scam the wrong guy.

“To my knowledge, nothing ever came of the email I fired off to his ISP,” Shane says. He now reflects that, “A savvy criminal would have used a VPN or the like to mask his own address, but judging from the panicked tone of voice I was hearing, this guy didn’t. Still, it was satisfying to put him in his place.”

How have you responded to scam calls? Write to me and share your story, and you – yes, you – could appear in a future edition of On-Call. ®

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