/ 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

I have had phone calls on this theme, though none recently. Sometimes I have had a long chat with callers before revealing that I don’t use Windows computers.

George Knight says:
20 June 2011

I had one of these calls about 6months ago and could not understand what I was being told (I am 82) but went to various sites as instructed to they said, repair my computer. After a long conversation I was very suspicious and told the caller I would phone my son first as it was going to cost me £200. They did not like it but agreed for me to call him. Of-course by the time I had been told by him that it was a scam they had vanished, but the damage had been done, Their instructions had infected my computer and it was not working at all afterwards. The local “guru” had a look at it and could not repair it I was forced to buy another one costing me £350 I reported the matter to the police.

Speedy says:
21 June 2011

Well done George for reporting the matter to the police. The more people report these crimes the more chance there is of something getting done about it and the more chance of these crooks being caught.

SaraS says:
21 June 2011

My mother received such a call (even though they are on the no-cold call database) earlier this year but luckily she didn’t like the sound of it so hung up.

David M says:
21 June 2011

I’ve had several of these. The approach has been “your ISP has noticed errors on your PC and asked us to call you to put them right”. On being asked which ISP they’ve reeled off a list but, oddly enough, don’t appear to know which one I’m with.

My favourite was last week. I said “this is a scam and you are what we call a criminal”. This must have offended him because he called back three times in an attempt to argue the point.

Incidentally, dialing 1471 didn’t get a no number, but a string of zeros.

I’ve had several of these calls even though I’m registered with the Telephone Preference Scheme. One caller became very abusive when I told him it was a scam and asked if he was proud of the work he did.

My sister, who had just lost her husband, did download the software but became suspicious and called me before paying any money. However, it cost to have someone check the computer and remove the software.

I’m disappointed that only successful scams can be reported. People who have been conned are the least likely to report the fraud because of embarrassment. There should be some means for anyone who receives a scam related call to report the experience.

Jeana says:
21 June 2011

Like the callers above. I have had several calls. The last I decided to play along with and asked which computer it was? They couldn’t say and I found out that they are in India. I gave a long explanation of the telephone preference service(although it doesn’t cover outside the UK). Then i told him it was a scam and put the phone down. 3 minutes later his “manager” rang to assure me they were a legitimate company and got quite stroppy with me! I put the phone down again! I have told all my friends about this scam but it does not seem to be widely known.

HughG says:
21 June 2011

I asked the caller to hold on while I turned on my recording equipment. He terminated the call immediately.

Hello James and Hugh, I’m not sure why your comments have been swallowed up. All I can do is apologise and we’ll get our tech guys to look at it tomorrow. However, if you can send us your comment via our Contact Us form https://conversation.which.co.uk/contact-us we’ll make sure to put it up for you. Thanks and sorry again.

Walt at EK says:
21 June 2011

I got one of these calls last week – claiming that there were problems with my Windows installation on my PC. When I responded that I was a PC security expert and wished to know how she could see what was on my PC the caller immediately hung up.

Speedy says:
21 June 2011

It would seem that this Scam is more prevalent than first thought. Both my sister and mother in law have received similar calls from people pretending to be from Microsoft. Anyway once the general public get knowledge of this Scam the fraudsters will just move on and dream up another Scam. One thing I did notice about this Scam is that they don’t seem to be targeting at random, they seem to be targeting the elderly and the less tech savvy. Perhaps they are scouring social web sites or the voters role to target their victims. Either way these people are the lowest of the low, I would love it if Microsoft brought them to justice.Which it is more than capable of doing.Remember the Sasser Virus? Microsoft, together with the FBI traced the culprit and turned up at his door in Germany with the handcuffs.

Allan Davies says:
21 June 2011

I have had many such calls. They seem to come on bursts, I go a couple of weeks with none then get 3 or 4 a week. 1471 returns “number withheld” or “from a network unable to transmit numbers”
If I am away on holiday my answer m/c will have picked up several times with no message left.

I sometimes play a game by saying I will switch my PC on then leaving the phone for 5 minutes before returning and saying my pc won’t start – what shall i do? leave for another 5 minutes and pretend that it has started. My record is about 30 minutes before they hang up.

You can also amuse yourself and exasperate them by inquiring about the weather and did they get the storm last night, or how much snow did they get. Or say you are an insuance agent or mortgage broker and attempt to sell them something, asking for their credit card or bank details.

Telling some long and tedious jokes is another way of striking back.

These people are there to amuse us, make the most of them!!!!

David says:
21 June 2011

I have had these calls too. I managed to get the company name out of one of the people who rang. They were called Comantra. I reported this to an online website that discusses nuisance calls (whocallsme.com) and loads of people had been scammed or had received calls from this company. My Mum also gets regular calls of a similar nature…she keeps them talking for ages before eventually admitting she doesn’t have a computer! Sadly being TPS registered doesn’t seem to offer any protection from companies calling from abroad (India appears to be the main source) but there are far too many people being taken in with the scam to stop them bothering us all.

Hazel Talbot says:
21 June 2011

I have had four of these calls , each time I let them ramble on before saying I don’t have a computer – not really true but what’s my husband’s is mine [in my eyes at least]

Speedy says:
22 June 2011

OK. We’ve now done some research and made some noises to various outlets associated with this.
The company and the whole set up is a Scam. And, to be honest, is a large bunch of chancing clowns. However this does not distract from the fact that some less tech savvy people are taken in by this.
They should in no way be associated with logmein123.com which is a legitimate professional company, but the scammers are using their services.

Steps you can take to protect yourself;
If anyone calls you and says they are associated with Microsoft hang up, Microsoft DO NOT cold call anyone full stop.
Do NOT give any information whatsoever to an Indian call centre, they are known to pass and sell on private information to underground criminals. This also means if your ISP or Mobile phone provider uses these call centres. Many legitimate businesses are finding out, to their cost, that outsourcing call centres in India has not helped their budgets, but gave them a serious security headache

[Hello Speedy, we’ve edited your comment due to potentially libellous statements and to remove contact information.]

Following an offical MS restoration on my PC (India location, via UK number) I had such a call. Since my MS help contract had then expired I suspected this immediately. I let her run a bit: she was trying to tell me my major ISP had had infections or some such lie, having picked this up from my ID number. I challenged her and quit.
If I could get it to work I would say ‘Transferring this call to a mobile in Timbuktu” and turn on the fax squeeler. Another option is turn on your tranny next to the phone and leave it running. These callers are earing on a time basis so … music while your work !

Shelley says:
22 June 2011

We also had a call about 2 months ago. He was calling from an Indian call centre and told us he was from Microsoft and that our server was about to crash! I asked him how he could possibly know that from India and he got very stroppy and started shouting “just log onto your computer now!” i told him they were all switched off and then handed him over to my other half and called my brother who works in cyber security! My brother said just hang up and don’t download anything, so we did…….. He also seemed to know our full postal address which was quite scary!

Loonybean says:
22 June 2011

I am a manager of a small computer retailer, and have had several visits and phone calls from customers who have received calls purporting to be from Microsoft. Our advice to customers is to report the calls to the police, and NEVER give the callers any information, as Speedy said above, Microsoft DO NOT cold call anyone, and the only information they routinely get from your computer is system configuration information, which doesn’t carry any personal identifiers.
Unfortunately, a few customers did fall for the scam, and needed a fair bit of work on their computers to make them usable again, luckily without losing any of their data. It does seem that the callers are targeting elderly people, as the majority of people that we”ve seen have been in that age group.
If you’re ever in doubt, as has been said before, hang up. If you’re worried, speak to a knowledgable friend, or a reputable computer repair centre, they will be able to set your mind at rest.

How do they know the people they target are elderly or non tech-savvy?

Assume that unsolicited callers are up to no good and you will not go far wrong. At best they are wasting your time.

I think it should be illegal for all organisations to withhold their phone number or to interfere with caller display to provide a false number. In the 21st century, caller display should be able to provide the names of organisations automatically.

Ron Adams says:
24 June 2011

I have been receiving similar calls for 18 months, they sound as if they are from India.During the 1st call I went along with everything they said until they asked for my bank details for a payment. I guess I have had over a dozen calls. I tell an untruth and that is ” I work for Computer Active who are concerned about their illegal activities and this conversation is been recorded for evidence and future use”. The phone goes silent in seconds without further comment from them.

Good tactic – give them the scareware in return.

I have a recording of a conversation I had with ‘Windows Technical Department’ last October. The Indian sounding guy who called me said that they had discovered a problem with my computer. I knew instantly that this was a scam but I thought I’d amuse myself for a few minutes.

I asked if he was calling from Microsoft, and he said ‘No, he was from Windows Technical Department and asked me whether I was in front of my computer. Although I wasn’t, I said I was and he proceeded to instruct me on a sequence of actions I should take. When I asked me what I could see on the screen, I asked him what I should see, at which point he said that he didn’t believe I was in front of my computer.

After a few more exchanges, I asked for his phone number, at which point he hung up.

I’ve listened to this recording several times, and keep kicking myself because I didn’t play along properly and string it out for longer than the 3 minutes that the call lasted.

C’est la vie.