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.