/ 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.

Bernie says:
24 June 2011

I’ve had 2 in the last 3 days. I didn’t see any point in re-reporting to the local police as there’s no number to trace on 1471 and the police didn’t seem to know what to do with my report when I tried previously. If there’s no crime (damage to the computer) the potential of intelligence on a wide spread scam doesn’t seem to raise any interest.
I’m afraid I’ve resorted to some very loud Anglo-Saxon language ending in the word “scam” which is childish but means I get my retaliation in first and no managers have phoned straight back.

Cathy says:
27 June 2011

I have just had a call from a woman from a company called helppconline.com who said they had picked up an error message from my PC that needed immediate action, and that they needed to access my computer. As my dad had exactly this call about 3 days ago (and he hung up on them in the end as they got a bit agressive), I went along with it for a bit (not mentioning that I have a MAC rather than a PC) then asked for a contact phone number at which point she got a bit flustered and said I couldn’t have one, but should log on to the website and get contact details from there. I politely told her that I had no problems with my computer and that she should remove me from their mailing/calling list immediately. The thing is that there are so many people out there who might have a couple of hiccups with their computers and get taken in by these people, when, even if there was a real problem, a fix/update can often be downloaded for free off a proper website. As the previous posters have mentioned, the call from the woman sounded like it was in a ‘call centre’ and she was definitely had an Indian accent.

I have just had an unsolicited call from a company called PC Care, claiming to be affiliated with Microsoft. He mentioned antivirus software and firewalls and I told him that my computer was already protected. The young man seemed a bit evasive when I started asking some technical questions but claimed to have received reports of problems with my computer.

I suggested that he might be part of a scam that had been reported recently on Which? Conversations and explained how to use Google to find this site. He assured me that it was not a scam and started to repeat what he had already said.

I explained that I used Apple OSX Snow Leopard and not Windows. Even that did not shut him up, so I put down the phone. I knew that I would not be able to report the call because the number was shown as unavailable.

Speedy says:
20 July 2011

These folks are getting more persistent, even after you told them you have a Mac, my father who really doesn’t have a computer got a call the other day, don’t worry, to let you into a little secret they have already rattled the cages of the wrong people and their scamming ways is about to come to an end

I had another call from PC Care today. It was a different chap and this time I was upfront about having a Mac. He was not very knowledgeable so I told him that I understood the security problems with Windows and suggested that he should consider using Mac OSX or Linux instead.

The only thing that this chap was confident about was that he was not part of a scam.

DIESEL says:
2 August 2011

I get at least two calls a month from these people. I either say, “hold on there’s someone at the door” and leave them running up a bill until they hang up, or, “you’re good, the computer’s in for repair!”. or I just become abusive. Either way they hang up.

I have been scammed ! Last night I was cold called by Virtuial PC Doctor saying they were from Windows Tech Support Team. They said that many windows users were complaining that their computers were running slow. After Virtuial Doctor had checked it out for them they said that it was due to dangerous infections they had from the internet. Yes I know, I let them check my computer. They detected hunderds of infectious error messages and i could see them on my screen. they said these could render my computer usless if I did’nt do anything about it. I bet they were having a good laugh over the 3hrs it took to clean my computer. But its not a laughting matter to me as I paid out £183.99 for 3yrs protection. I paid through pay pal so they did’nt get my card details. I’m now going to cancel Virtuial PC Doctor, they say I have up to 30 Days to do this.
Please wish me well everyone. mj

Jennifer says:
6 September 2011

Just had one of these calls myself. They’re changing their tune a bit, the lady who rang me emphasised that Microsoft don’t call you directly. She claimed that she was ringing me on behalf of my ISP. I told her that I was perfectly capable of dealing with computer’s problems, at which point she very rapidly and loudly went through the spiel. Didn’t let me get a word in edge-wise. Finally, I shouted four times that I was running Linux (not true, wish it were so…) and she very angrily accused me of wasting her time. Eh?

Celia Blair says:
14 September 2011

I received a call from a man with an Asian accent claiming to be working for Microsoft, saying he knew that I had been having some error messages on my pc that he could correct.
When I said I wanted to check his credentials he gave me a number. 0203 318 9869.
I checked the number via Google and it seems to confirm that someone is trying to get unsuspecting pc owners to alter settings. This is clearly a dangerous scam that may be widespread.
Of course 1471 revealed that his number had been withheld.
When I dialled 0203 318 9869 it too did not function, another error message!

I felt a little bit sorry for the dupes who were working for these bogus firms. They are probably desperate to earn some money like a lot of others. However, I used 2 scenarios to waste their time which is quite important when you consider how much of ours they waste. After all, being based in India they don’t come under the TPS.
Version 1: I feigned interest and concern and pretended to be looking at my PC. I was actually gardening. When I let the phone go silent for a while it was quite fun to admit to being nowhere near a computer and to wasting their time like they were wasting mine.
Version 2 With a very pushy and even slightly rude female caller I gradually turned the conversation round to a reverse pervert’s call. I won’t embarrass delicate Which readers with details but it gradually dawned on the poor soul that I had rumbled the con. Cruel perhaps but what else can you do to crooks? They have regularly conned people out of substantial sums of money. Do they deserve any respect?

I received a call from Martin purporting to be from Global Technical, whom he claimed was a Partner of Microsoft. He asserted there was a device on my computer and that he needed access to clean it off. He gave his telephone number as 02030510987 but refused to provide a postal address or ssay from wehre he was calling. I accused him of running a scam and he rang off!

Trevor Lewis says:
22 October 2011

A firm calling themeselves SWREG and purporting on first contact to be part of Windows or Microsoft contacted me by landline and told me I had many security errors on my computer, which they would cure.

First they stressed it was a free service, then up popped an invoice for £179, which I paid on my Visa Debit Card.

They controlled my computer and so say rectified the problem, since then error messages are appearing, I have just received a phonecall re the failure of my system, and put the phone down! I have tried to remove their input with no success.

Sorry to hear of your experience Trevor. I think SWREG are a legitimate USA payment scheme company so I suspect someone is using their name. My sister had a similar experience (see above)and called a local computer technician to remove the program.

I don’t know if returning to a restore point will solve the problem. Or maybe ask your security software company for advice.

Just while I remember – my grandpa was also hit by this scam. When it came to them asking for his car details to pay he said ‘he’s over 90’ which he is. The scammers then said, oh, we’re only allowed to charge people under-90. Now, where has this sudden ‘ethical’ rule come from that you’re only allowed to scam older people if they’re no older than in their 80s?

Maybe a tiny little bit of left over conscience kicked in!

A Golden Rule: I treat every unsolicited call almost without exception as an invasion of and an affront to my very much-valued privacy and I act accordingly… and nah, don’t avail self of unsolicited freeware

….. and such ‘pariah’ status I extend to existing outfits where I’m already a customer of
but who would like to sell me something else more lucrative or additionally… in persistent and serious cases, I make any further unsolicited communications a term of a legally-binding contract I’ve set up that I make clear I shall sue on/enforce…. not surprisingly thereafter they have left me (taken fright?) quite alone on my having given them, of course, unequivocal notice of my intentions….re further to what I’d said in foregoing.

Re what I said above…. extends to ALL manner of unsolicited communications.

argonaut, I doubt whether callers from India would take your threats seriously. I had another one yesterday and as usual it was someone with an Indian accent introducing themselves with an anglo-saxon name. As I said before, the best thing to do with these people is waste their time because the longer you keep them on the line, (they’re paying for the call, remember) the fewer other potential suckers get called.

And you can indulge your creative talents in all sorts of ways to prolong their agony – “This machine takes forever to boot up”, “Hold on a sec, there’s someone at the door”, “Oops, I pressed the wrong button” etc, etc.

My caller yesterday invited me to go to a website called ‘ammyy.com’. If you google ‘ammyy scam’ you’ll find all sorts of links about it. One that really delighted me was on YouTube, which featured a recording of a Scottish guy stringing them along for 75 minutes with all sorts of ploys – it was hilarious.

My existing landline was once taken over called hijacked(?) without my knowledge or indeed express consent…. talk of criminal propensities of those Indian call centre guys, they were every bit as “imaginative” as veritable liars and exceedingly good in matters of pure fabrication:’making it up.’

Thankfully do not use Indian call centres anymore as my bank has curtailed such operations there and returned them to UK.

Never have liked to contact call centres anyway wherever, only use them when the computer is down, for example, and then I think twice before so doing.

Further to what I said in paragraph one of foregoing, telephone and broadband services were with
different providers and tiring of further cold calling in wanting me to switch which I steadfastly resisted, agent(s) of wrongdoer of ISP decided to hijack my landline without my knowledge and express consent like I’d said.

On a complaint made and an investigation being carried out, it transpired I was alleged to have spoken to an operative at a specified time and date as to authorising the switchover, such conversation NEVER ever did take place…the company through its guilty agent was simply thieving unless there is a more appropriate term to describe such outrageous conduct and there is most probably none.

Likewise in the case of British Gas who took my electricity account into their own hands without so much as by my leave.

In both cases, there was appropriate redress made not least as to the inconvenience caused.

Little wonder I give short shrift to cold-callers…thought a stop had been put to that in the case of utilities
but only just last week I was cold called by an agent who beat a hasty retreat when I demanded to know the name of the company whose interests he purported to represent.

We seem to have got away from the whole point of this thread – the Microsoft cold-calling scam.

Patti says:
25 October 2011

I was called yesterday by a lady with an Indian accent who said the company she represented – I didn’t catch the name – was based in London. She said that they had identified some serious flaws in my computer software and I was to switch on the PC so that she could show me on-screen. She then asked me to type something into the search site, at which point I asked again who it was she represented and told her that I had a maintenance contract with the system checked regularly. She then lost interest and couldn’t get away fast enough. The caller ID showed the number 0123456789 which was obviously what they hide behind. In the previous weeks I had received half a dozen of these calls from the same number but had either not bothered to answer or had said ‘she’s not in’ when asked for by name.

Since this Conversation was published I must have had 20-30 calls that mentioned Microsoft, Windows and security problems.

I started off winding up the callers but it eventually became so annoying that I started being rude to callers and then hanging up without listening to any more. I have had no calls for more than two weeks, but I don’t know whether this is down to luck. Not once has caller display shown a number.