A quick-thinking high school student in Japan saves a senior citizen from falling victim to a technical support scam
By Kumiko Tezuka
Koyu Nakama works part-time after school at a convenience store near his home on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa. He’s also a frontline cybercrime fighter.
One day an older gentleman came into the store and walked up to the counter looking upset. Someone claiming to be from Microsoft, he explained, had contacted him saying there was a virus on his PC. He needed to buy a 50,000-yen top-up (about US $500) for his electronic cashcard so he could pay a fee to have it removed.
“The customer seemed really rattled,” Nakama recalls. “I’d been told by my supervisor at the store to watch out for tech support scams since they were on the rise recently — people claiming to be IT service providers and convincing their targets to buy prepaid cards or pay such-and-such an amount because their PC had been infected by a virus, that kind of thing.”
As Nakama puts it, he smelled a rat and offered to help check things out before the customer forked out any money. Nakama took it upon himself to ring up the caller’s number there and then. Using a different phone in his other hand, he looked up Microsoft Japan’s number.
A man answered on the other end of the line and insisted that he was a Microsoft employee. But when Nakama demanded to know why his number was different from Microsoft Japan’s, he suddenly hung up.
Thanks to Nakama’s prudence, the customer avoided becoming a victim of fraud. His fast and gutsy action was recognized with a letter of appreciation from the police.
“It was the first time that I myself had encountered a tech support scam in my everyday life,” says Nakama who attends the Nago Commercial and Technical High School where he studies business in its commercial department.
“So, I was surprised. But at the same time, I knew I had to do something since older people are easy prey to such fraud.”
Recent research shows that tech support scams worldwide have declined since last year, but they are still all too common. Even now, Microsoft receives a monthly average of over 6,500 inquiries regarding technical support scams.
“I was surprised. But at the same time, I knew I had to do something …”
“Tech support scams are perpetrated globally and target people of all ages,” says Mary Jo Schrade, assistant general counsel, regional lead, Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit Asia. “While we do see progress made in the percentage of people who declined to engage with the scammers, there is continued need to monitor and address how the attacks are evolving.
“Tactics used by fraudsters to victimize users online have evolved over time, from pure cold calling to more sophisticated ploys, such as fake “pop-ups” displayed on people’s computers.
Committed to keeping the internet safe
“Across the diverse region of Asia Pacific, we are seeing attack rates vary according to demographics and habits – yet tech support scams continue to affect all countries. We are committed to keeping the internet safe and hope that talking publicly about these scams will help better educate people so they can avoid becoming victims of these scammers.”
Microsoft has been working with law enforcement authorities around the world since 2014 to help bring fraudsters to justice.
To protect customers from threats – including technical support scams – the company constantly enhances its products and services and actively shares information that helps customers avoid becoming victims of fraud.
How to stay safe from scammers
When using your computer to browse the internet, you might occasionally encounter pages showing an alert supposedly from Microsoft. It might also be accompanied by spoken guidance or an alarm sound.
If you hear either, you may be startled and you may feel like you can’t do anything about it. But this is a trick to make you lose your cool, and in most cases, nothing is actually happening.
When such a warning comes up, you may also find it impossible to close the browser or take some other action. You will invariably be prompted by the blurb on the screen to call a specific number for security purposes.
Please be aware that Microsoft has nothing to do with such warnings, and that nothing they say can be trusted.
Always remember, Microsoft does not send unsolicited email messages or make unsolicited phone calls to request personal or financial information, or to provide technical support to fix your computer. Any communication with Microsoft has to be initiated by you.
If you receive a notification or a call from someone who claims to represent Microsoft or some other well-known software company, we highly recommend that you keep the following in mind:
- Regard any pop-up messages on your computer screen with suspicion.
- Do not call any telephone numbers or click on any links displayed in the pop-up.
- Do not download Microsoft software from any site other than official company websites or Microsoft Store.
- Exercise caution when downloading software from a third-party site, since the software may have been tampered with and malware or some other threat inserted without the knowledge of the software company concerned.
- If you suspect that you have been targeted by a technical support scam, please report the details.
- You should also report the same details to your local law enforcement agency.
- To learn more, please read: Protect yourself from tech support scams.