/ 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.


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.

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.

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!

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.

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:


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.

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.]



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.

Sorry to hear that you were a victim of this scam. I suggest that you contact Action Fraud.

R Harris says:
29 December 2011

Had a phone call yesterday claiming to be from Microsoft tech team. Thought this was strange as my computer was actually faulty. I had ordered a new computer on ebay the day before and assumed this was how they knew so I cancelled and will look elsewhere. Coincidence?
Said “sorry got to go now” He said he’d phone back tomorrow and we haven’t heard from him since.

S Cosgrove says:
5 January 2012

Cold call scam. Microsoft
I was called today by an Asian-sounding man who wouldn’t give his name. He said he was from the Windows Service Centre and as I used microsoft windows they had a duty to call me. He said my computer was in danger of being infected by virus and my PC was on. I said I couldn’t really understand his accent very well, and went to see if my husband was on the laptop, which he wasn’t. The man kept calling me ‘mam’ and did I realise I was a risk. When said no one was on our PC, he became abusive towards me, and shouting at me that I should turn my PC on. I told him to stop shouting at me, and asked him ‘how can I verify who you actually are’. He raised his voice to shouting louder at me, I told him if he can’t verify who he was I was hanging up. The abusive continued so I hung up. There was no telephone number displayed on my caller display but was displayed as a ‘Private Number’. I have since discovered this is the second time they have called my house, a couple of weeks ago my husband also spoke to an Asian sounding person but he refused to speak to him and hung up. Because of my work back ground I am able to cope with abusive callers, but to some one who isn’t trained on this type of call, could be bully into doing exactly what this caller requests. Very dangerous, if any doubt do not accept what they are calling about.

jerry says:
5 January 2012

i have been inundated with calls from before christmas about a free computer health check from mircosoft. they will not go away. i told them i knew it was a scam and to stop calling, so they called wanting to speak to my husband instead. Bt are putting a block on my phone line to stop unlisted numbers calling me.

Sally Smith. says:
16 January 2012

Monday 16th January 2012. I have been called four times today by an asian man claiming his name is Gordon Smith. He told me that my computer would crash within two hours unless I went on line to him and gave him information. I asked for a phone number to call him back and he gave me 01513 240611, and said he was in Hampshire. I knew that 01513 is Liverpool so was instantley aware that it wasnt right.I am 67yrs old and very new to computers so without this knowledge re code areas I may have fallen foul of the scammers.

Peter says:
7 February 2012

At 9:30 (7th Feb 2012) I was called for the 2nd time to be informed my computer was under attack from a virus/worm/malware. I got a name of Dave, and a phone number – 02080990364 – and said someone would call him back. I have no intention of doing so – but someone else might like to have a go and see what happens.

Our latest Conversation on this relates a recent personal experience from a Which? member. This particular technical support scam tricked her into sending them a photocopy of her passport, and stole over £2k from her account: https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/technical-support-scam-phone-company-computer-fraud/

So what who should you report this to? And is enough being done to ensure these scams are wiped out?

John Jameson says:
19 April 2012

I received a call from “Microsoft” from an undisclosed number. The caller said they’d spotted my PC was running slowly and they wanted to help me fix it. I was asked to turn on my PC then run msconfig. I was asked to look at the services tab which showed that some services were stopped. The caller said I should enable all services. He then asked me to run windows event viewer and click the system tab. I had to say how many events were running (top left corner) and was told that the various red and yellow warning icons were a result of viruses on my machine. In fact it’s usual to see these warnings, even on a healthy system. Whilst this was going on the caller asked for my full name. date of birth, house number and post code. Finally, after 35 minutes I was directed to http://www.********.com to download whatever it was that the caller had intended when he first made the call. When I opened this link my “Web of Trust” browser extension barred me from entering the site with some very red warnings which explained the nature of the scam.

I should add that I use a Macbook Pro so knew this was a scam but I was happy to load up a temporary windows virtual machine to see how this scammer worked. No harm was done and I enjoyed creating a false persona for the purposes of the exercise!
[Edited by moderators:Link removed]

Kathleen says:
21 April 2012

I have just become a victim of this scam this evening.A man with an Indian accent phoned me to say my PC was in serious risk of a dangerous virus.As my PC has been being running slow lately like a fool I believed him.He said he worked for Microsoft and then started giving me directions how to clear the virus off.I was directed to various windows then asked to provide my bank details on an online form and was told for £179 I would have 24 months protection.I told him I had Norton installed and he said that Norton had become infected by this virus and was now useless.
Fool that I was I provided my bank details then my PC started to take a mind of it’s own and the curser began moving by itself ”clearing” viruses.
I told my husband and he got suspicious and took over the phone shouted at the caller and told him to get lost.
I immedietly phoned my bank and cancelled all payments along with my debit card.I also informed the local police.
I ran Norton and found my PC was clean but it may not be tomorrow.I am having to get it checked over.
Then I got an e-mail from a website telling me I could not cancel payment without their permission!.
Which shows they had tried to obtain it after I phoned the bank.Bank had informed me nothing had been taken out so I must have phoned them just in time.
When will something be done about these scammers?.

Morgan says:
7 June 2012

Sadly these scammers are like the mythical hydra–cut off one head two more grow in its place. Odds are they are using a call center in a foreign country (to hinder efforts to shut them down) where people are just reading off a script and don’t know that they are being used to commit fraud.

The only realistic thing to be done is to be informed. Microsoft’s own website expressly states “If you receive an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft Tech Support, hang up. We do not make these kinds of calls.”

Tazzy says:
13 June 2012

I have just had an hour converstion with protecturpc.co.uk who can apparently ” scan your pc and download free software to your computer” – they are apparently in Clapham London – which seems strange given the delay on the phone – they even have MSCE engineers doing this – a real waste of the top Microsoft skilled engineers in my opinion.
It does become a laugh to waste their time constantky questioning their motives until they confitm that this free service actually costs £59 minimum and £299 maximum! cheaper to download the free software from the internet yourself – and check with them what the difference is between registered and free software as the free versions do not now always expire after a certain time frame.
As kermit has said keep them on the phone and then it will waste their time and you can still be watching tv or carrying on as per normal.

Teresa Brewer says:
19 June 2012

I am wondering if anyone has been contacted by Smartsupportguys? My partner has and he has given them his credit card details for a 6 month support fee of £49.00. They are based in Dubai but have a central London contact number 0207 193 9836. They called him claiming to be part of the Microsoft technical support team? They have a fairly impressive website – but still feel uneasy that he has given his details and they have had remote access to his computer.

As far as I know, the Microsoft support team is run by Microsoft! I’d avoid any company that claimed otherwise.

Paul says:
8 November 2012

A few months back, I had these ‘Microsoft Support’ people phone every day for two weeks. By the time they gave up I was getting really rude and offensive.

But I’ve just had one that struck me as so ridiculous that I started laughing. They claimed to be from ‘the technical department of the world wide web’. When I questioned that there was any such place and suggested they were going to try a scam they hung up.

Speedy says:
10 November 2012

Hooray, am happy to report that the relevant authorities have finally shut them down.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other international regulatory authorities today said they shut down a global criminal network that allegedly bilked tens of thousands of consumers by pretending to be tech support providers.

Wanna bet?

angry says:
12 February 2013

They just phoned a neighbor of mine and they called me during the call. I told them NOT to give them any information or let them take control of their computer. Thankfully they did not, but they are still at it and trying to scam people.

They suck.

Sarah says:
26 February 2013

They’re still at it!

Have received 2 calls in the last month…

Would like to know how they got my home phone number and knew that I would be able to speak English; as we only moved in 4 months ago and are in Paris with an internet phone connection. My internet service provider perhaps?

Mark says:
18 June 2014

We got a call today. I was out and my missus took the number down saying that if call them back. Sounded a bit dodge so I google their number and loads of forums popped up.

Evelyn says:
26 June 2014

I have just had a telephone call from someone from the ”Tech Support Helpline”. They knew my name and after some questions about why they were calling me I eventually put the phone down. The person on the phone wanted me to go to my computer to do a check on viruses and spyware and was insistent that there would be something there. I told them I would never allow someone on the phone to gain access to my computer and he was insistent it would’nt take long. This is quite worrying, knowing there are lots of vulnerable people out there.
The phone number they were calling from was 01905 339343.
I hope someone manages to stop these calls.