A Weird Little YouTube Scam

Earlier today, our developer, John Connelly, jumped six feet back from his keyboard.

“What in the world?”

I rolled over to his desk where I was greeted with a Chrome window featuring a blue screen of death and a popup with a lengthy, garbled error message. John unplugged his headphones so we could hear the accompanying audio, read in a pleasing computerized female voice:

“This is an important security message. Please call the number provided as soon as possible. You will be guided for the removal of the adware spyware virus on your computer. Seeing these popups means that you have a virus installed on your computer which puts the security of your personal data at a serious risk. It’s strongly advised that you call the number provided and get your computer fixed before you do any shopping online.”

Even weirder than this web page warning John of this “adware spyware virus” was how he got there. Like many a user, he’d Googled “YouTube” and clicked the top result (in this case, a PPC ad). That redirected him not to YouTube proper, but “www.youtubues.com,” a site undoubtedly created to prey on lazy typers.

I found this hard to believe so I asked him to make a GIF of the process:

Crazy, right? Even crazier was the fact that once we tried to do it again, the ad was totally gone.

Our guess: either Google pulled the ad or whoever put it in place put up a ton of money to run it for a very short amount of time. It can’t be cheap to beat out YouTube.com for people searching YouTube, after all.

We couldn’t help ourselves: we masked our phone number and called the “Tollfree Helpline” to see what would happen.

I won’t post the entire conversation, but here’s basically what happened:

  • John called the number and hit “1” for tech support.
  • He got put on hold for five minutes to listen and treated to a classical music MIDI.
  • Louis from Long Island finally picked up. John played dumb: “My computer’s locked up!”
  • Louis told us that his company, “National Support Solutions” in West Palm Beach, FL, is “Microsoft’s partner in the east” and that he can help. He very patiently tried to walk John through the problem, offering to remote in and fix it for $200.
  • John force quit Chrome and acted totally shocked that it solved his problems. Louis let us go.

We’re not entirely sure what would have happened if we had let Louis remote in to John’s computer, but chances are, John would have had his computer held ransom for $200 or more.

These types of scams seem absurd, but they’re not that uncommon: they’re akin to the popups or emails you’ve probably gotten promising free cruises and boatloads of cash. Predatory is a mild word for what companies like this do: take advantage of folks who aren’t well-versed on the ins and outs of the internet and exploit them. So feel free to share this weird little scam with people who might need to know about it, or people who might get a kick out of how bizarre it is.