/ Technology

Microsoft late to raise cold calling scam alarm

Hand shadow over computer keyboard

Microsoft’s finally warned customers of cold callers claiming to be from its tech support team. The aim is to stop others falling victim to unnecessary PC repairs, something we’ve been working on for over a year.

More than 15% of the people surveyed by Microsoft (7,000 computer users) said they’d received unsolicited calls from scammers claiming to offer technical support.

So how does the scam work?

The caller claims to have uncovered errors on your computer and may ask you to install remote access software, such as Logmein. The software is legitimate, but the scammers use it to remotely log into your computer and then ask for money to “repair” non-existent problems.

Scam dates back to early 2010

Of those who received a call, 22% fell for the scam according to Microsoft’s research. And the vast majority of these (79%) were hit in the wallet. This came as no surprise to me as we’ve been hearing from ripped off members since February 2010. John Black, who was one of the first to get in touch, had paid out £69 to have his computer ‘fixed’.

We ran a story alerting others to the scam and reported it to both Microsoft and the Police Central eCrime Unit (PCeU). Plus in January 2011, we ran a full-page article detailing how the scam was becoming more prevalent.

Since then, we’ve heard from dozens of readers who’ve received calls. Readers like Margaret Craven, who was told that she had corrupt files on her computer and would need to pay £189 to remove them – fortunately she hung up. Sadly, a colleague’s relative was targeted and did hand over his cash.

Playing on customer’s fears is nothing new

This particular cold calling scam may be relatively new, but the techniques are not. In essence fraudsters play on your fears – in this case, the fear of malware infecting your PC. Again, this doesn’t surprise me – I’ve lost count of the number of press releases I’ve received announcing the latest security threats, including many from Microsoft itself.

As a previous Which? Computing investigation revealed, many of these claims are exaggerated. In fact, the biggest threat today is not malware but the fear of malware. We’d advise anyone who receives one of these calls to hang up immediately. The simple fact is that these people have no way of knowing whether there’s anything wrong with your computer.

We’ll continue to keep an eye on this scam and put pressure on Microsoft and the authorities to stamp it out. It’s just a shame it took Microsoft so long (17 months) to come out and admit to it. If you’ve been a victim of one of these scams, let us know below.

Comments
Member

I can’t emphasise enough the point I made a few posts ago – the best thing to do to them is waste their time. If you’re rude to them or hang up quickly, or if they quickly terminate the call, they don’t lose sleep over it; they simply move on to the next victim. If you waste their time however, they can never recover that wasted time, and perhaps if enough people across the globe did that, it would soon cease to be economically viable for them to continue with their ‘business’.

One thing I don’t understand is why they keep calling me – I’ve certainly wasted a lot of their time and never given them anything but they keep coming back for more. I suppose there are several operations and they all refer to the same telephone directories – they don’t seem to keep or share records of wasted calls.

And if you treat the whole thing as entertainment for yourself, it can be a lot of fun. Have a look on YouTube.

Member

Been there and done that but it has happened so many times that the entertainment has long gone.

I would like to be able to ignore phone calls where caller display shows no number, but sometimes these are important calls.

Equally irritating calls are those offering free financial advice, free reports and calls purporting to be market research. I am fed up with all of this, and while writing this short message I have received a phishing email.

Member

It’s a fact of Internet life that we will be subjected to these intrusions for the foreseeable future. That is why I say that where we can, we should all take responsibility for disrupting those enterprises rather than just complaining about them.

If enough people do it, it may make a difference eventually. ACTION, NOT WORDS!

Member

Unsolicited calls, phishing, etc. would not continue if there was no money to be made out of these practices. Your efforts and mine may make it a little harder for unscrupulous organisations to make money but it is fairly obvious that not enough people have the time or motivation to do so.

Students and other young adults often have the belief that they can change the world, but that’s not likely to happen unless they join an organisation that it big enough to get its views heard.

Perhaps the best that individuals can do is to educate those who might otherwise be victim of scams.

Member

Hi all, we’ve published a new Conversation about this phone scam due to all of your continued comments. We’ve also done a new survey that you might be interested in.

Finally there’s a poll that you can vote in. The ‘Microsoft phone scam’ simply won’t hang up:

https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/microsoft-phone-scam-cold-calling-protect-yourself/

Member
doodle says:
11 November 2011

I have been phoned by 2 different companies both are apparently Microsoft Certificated Partners / Engineers as both gave me details of their company so that I could log on to their websites to have my computer problems!!!! sorted out. I strung them along to get as much information about their companies as I could without letting them have access to my PC. One gentleman even phoned back and got most aggressive so I said I would report him and that seemed to shut him up.

I have since written to Microsoft UK about this and am looking forward to their reply.

Member
VINCE MCCABE says:
11 December 2011

I am sad to say, I have been a victim of PC Support SCAM.
I allowed access to my PC and also paid £ 189 for their service to;-

[Website name removed.]

hope that may help and stop somebody else doing the same thing.

Not sure who else to report it to ??

[Hi Vince, we have edited your comment due to potential libel issues. Thanks, mods.]

regards

Vince

Member
Speedy says:
12 December 2011

Vince, act swiftly and report it to the police, inform your bank, credit card companies and change all your on-line passwords on another “clean” computer. There is no point in taking risks, so I wouldn’t use your computer, the one they had access to, without getting a real IT expert to check it’s clean first.

Member