/ Technology

The ‘Microsoft phone scam’ simply won’t hang up

The thing that annoys me most about cold callers is not when they’re out to sell something, but when they’re trying to scam me into handing over my card details. Phone scams are on the up, as your comments prove.

Cold callers pretending to be from your bank and scammers claiming they can fix your virus-riddled computer have much in common.

One, they’re preying on your fears. Two, they’re pretending to be from a legitimate company. Three, they’re after your card details. And four, they’re just old-fashioned confidence tricksters trying to make a quick buck at your expense.

Phone scams are still in vogue

We’ve been reporting on these scams for well over a year now, and our Conversation in June slapped Microsoft on the hand for not warning its customers about these cold callers. In fact, according to our survey in the latest Which? Computing issue, around half ‘strongly agreed’ that companies should do more to warn people about scams.

Almost one in ten said they had fallen for a cold-calling scam. So why are these phone scams still in vogue?

Apparently, they’re growing in popularity based on the availability of cheap phone calls and labour in countries like India. I haven’t personally been contacted by one of these cheery folk (I usually immediately hang up if I do) but a close member of my family has. Sadly, they were convinced into handing over their card details. They’ve since cancelled their card.

Falling for the cold calling scam

The scam goes something like this. They’ll try to persuade you to grant access to your PC via a remote access tool. They’ll install malware to show you a list of fake infections. And you’ll then be threatened (‘you’ll lose your data if we don’t fix this’) to hand over your card details.

You’ve continued to make comments about this phone scam here on Which? Convo – some have been called multiple times and others have sadly handed over money.

It’s worth pointing out that you’re not only in trouble if you’ve given them your card details. Once you’ve let them onto your computer, it’s been compromised, as they can see what you’re typing the next time you shop online or log in to your online bank account.

How to protect yourself from phone scams

So what should you do if you’re called by one of these phone scammers? Hanging up would be best, but certainly don’t let them remote in to your computer, and definitely don’t give them any money. If you have been targeted, change your passwords, do an antivirus scan and check for remote access software in the ‘Add or Remove Programs’ section of your Control Panel.

Another family member of mine said the scammer alleged that there were ‘computer viruses going around their area’. Firstly, they can’t know if there’s something wrong with your computer. And secondly, viruses do not travel geographically!

Finally, Which? Convo commenter Kermit has had lots of these scammers calling him, so I’ll leave you with his advice:

‘The best thing to do with these people is waste their time because the longer you keep them on the line, 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.’

Almost makes you feel sorry for them. Almost.

Have you been cold called by a technical support scam?

Yes - but I didn't fall for it (73%, 949 Votes)

No - I think I've been lucky (19%, 242 Votes)

Yes - I let them remotely log in to my computer (3%, 45 Votes)

Maybe - I'm not sure whether it was a phone scam (3%, 36 Votes)

Yes - I paid them money (2%, 26 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,298

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Paul Johnson says:
3 November 2011

Would a generalisation of this time-wasting tactic to all cold callers be effective in limiting this overall? This would offset the decreasing cost to them of the calls. I know they’ve got to make a living, yada yada yada, but I’d be for consumer associations promoting the time-wasting technique…. If cold calling sellers want me to devote some of my time to listen to them, it’s only fair 😉

I probably get two or three of these calls a week – I can quite happily keep them occupied while multi-tasking on my PC so they cant call others. Managed to really confuse one the other day by saying the space bar was next to the ctrl key – totally threw him off script. Then I end the call with a you’re a loathsome human being why dont you do something good with your life etc.

TBH I think any calls where the number is ‘unavailable’ should just be banned (or the opt out should be free on all networks)

unavailable or just silly. I once had a call from you were called by 0000000000.

Hi Lombear – great comment – we’ve made you our commenter of the week!

Thanks 😀

anthony benfield says:
3 November 2011

getting 3-4 calls per day from 09999100215

I get calls from The Computer Maintenance department for Microsoft windows every few weeks. Sad thing is they seem to know nothing about computers. So its quite easy to run rings around them if you know what your talking about. Last call I got was last week so I should be getting some more soon 🙁

Tactics I use are 1) tell them I’m using Linux, or 2) Ask them which PC is showing up on there system or 3) ask them what my IP address is. They’ve even tried tellling me that its which about a billion PCs + round the world will have. or 4) Ask them if they want me to just open the event viewer. or 5) tell them the event viewer has nothing in it ( and yes I do clear it out periodically.) They even once said OMG your system has a virus and is about to crash. Which was ofc a lie.

I’m with BT and I could pay them to block these calls, but I’d rather the govt forced phone providers to do it for free and it would also stop PPI claims companies from pestering me too.

Mikhail says:
3 November 2011

BT can’t block those calls 🙁 I’ve tried that service with them and with Virgin, it didn’t work.

I started to receive frequent calls around the time that the scam was first mentioned on this site. To start with I treated it as a game and wasted their time before explaining that my computers don’t use Windows. Eventually I got so fed-up that I have become quite rude to callers.

The Microsoft scam calls seem to have stopped, but I’ve just had someone calling about PPI. That was after receiving an interesting new phishing email.

Mikhail says:
3 November 2011

I have cancelled my landline and purchased a private local DID (SIP) number, it works exactly the same, it looks like a local number, costs considerably less and provides considerably more services. Since then, I haven’t received a single scam/ad call. It looks like that Virgin and BT are selling our private data. I’m saying that because I never dealt with Talk Talk, but when I decided to switch to BT (mistake) and cancelled my contract a month later, I started receiving personalised ads from Talk Talk, so I wonder how did they find out about me. I remember from the news, that insurance companies were selling some data to injury lawyers; is it from the same category?

Anne says:
3 November 2011

I had this call. They said: “I’m calling from Microsoft.” I said: “No you’re not,” and hung up. What bothered me is how many people looked in my explanation of the conversation for evidence that they weren’t genuine, when of course they weren’t genuine, there’s no need to analyse it further.

I got a phone call claiming my computer had a virus. When they told me “Windows” had a virus, I gladly swore at the caller and told him I don’t use Windows. xD
I think the scammers might try a different approach by saying it’s either Windows, your Apple computer or Ubuntu (the latter being the popular Linux distro, which I use all the time and never get viruses).

My approach is simple: never trust a stranger with anything!

And guess what, just had ANOTHER call from Windows support line about my computer sending out the warnings and error messages. New tactic for dealing with them, I asked if it was OK for me to record the call, and after being passed to someone who could understand what that meant they hang up faster than speeding bullet.

Oh yes at one point she asked what i could see on the screen, my response, some ogres, a few tress, a dragon and a hill hehe, and I’m not making that up

This is getting so old now, I wish the government would force the phone providers to do something about this, We’re in the 21st century it shouldnt be too difficult. Maybe withdraw aid from India until they clean up their act ?

Ogres, trees, a dragon ????

Most Windows users just get viruses and trojans. 🙂

Good idea to record the conversation and this is legal provided the caller has been informed. Explain to them how their voice pattern will reveal their IP address, home address and that you will set an ogre round to sort them out.

I was , and still am , playing World of Warcaft. Well she did ask what was on my screen. 🙂

Had an international call last week and did a 1471 after the call but no number was recorded. Foreign gentleman told me he was from microsoft, and they were aware there was a fault on my p.c. that he could put right. He told me to go to my p.c. and switch it on so that he could show me where the fault was. I asked how he knew that I had a p.c. and told him that this is a scam and put the phone down straight away.

This was my second scam call, the first one was a year ago and an almost identical telephone call. I knew it was a scam and did a 1471,got a number and reported it to B.T. They recognised the number immediately from others reporting in to them but said there was little they could do as it was an international call that was being bounced from this country.
The more we report these scams it will illustrate the true size of this scam, and will force greater action to stop them..

Too many people here are simply venting their spleen at the scammers, but doing nothing to impede their enterprises. You can forget threatening legal action against them – they know that they’re empty threats and it doesn’t worry them.

Because of the borderless nature of the Internet and the proliferation of abuses that occur on it, it will be a long time before any organisation has the authority or the ability to adequately police it.

It is therefore up to us to each do what we can to disrupt these criminals’ activities. So instead of swearing at them and hanging up (which doesn’t bother them in the least – they get that every day), or threatening them with meaningless legal action, WE SHOULD ALL BE WASTING THEIR TIME!!!

The next time you get one of these calls, do your bit by stringing them along for as long as you can. Remember, they are criminals on a job, and every minute of their time that you waste is a minute they will never recover to scam someone else.

You made this point on the previous discussion Kermit. I’m one of the ones who has spent a fair amount of time wasting the callers’ time and mine. This is clearly a major operation since so many people are receiving these calls. A public information campaign could sort out the problem but I don’t think that those who post on this forum or read the messages are going to achieve much.

I seem to have stopped receiving the calls, so I may have been removed from the call list, but it is not reasonable to expect everyone to spend ages chatting to these scam merchants if it is entertaining to start with.

Every one of the callers sounds Indian and male. I assume that they are people who don’t get a job with company call centres. The operation only succeeds because some people actually believe what they are told over the phone. Perhaps there is a need for public information broadcasting on TV and radio, not just about this but warning people about phishing and other illegal activities.

You tell us off if we don’t comply with the T&Cs and now you expect us to read the introduction to Conversations. You are a hard taskmaster Patrick. 🙂 🙂

Notin says:
11 November 2011

When these scammers ask for me by name I usually say ‘I will go and get him, just putting you on hold while I do so’. Then I put the handset next to my radio and just leave it there.

NeilG says:
11 November 2011

I think the various telephone companies should do more in monitoring and blocking these scams. They charge enough for their services but seem to turn a blind eye to scams. Maybe they make revenue from them and dont wish to block them.

The real scandal is that Microsoft has not notified every computer user of this scam- at the very least it would help all those old folk who may be not all that computerate.

Ian Savell says:
11 November 2011

I suspect the reason Microsoft has not acted is that the key point about these calls is that Microsoft NEVER contact computer users. If they ever did, the scammers would multiply their efforts knowing that they have just become more believable.

As someone else above mentioned, I’ve also had the PPI calls and innumerable others. Recent news articles show that many reputable call centre operators are moving out of India, while call centre “training schools” abound there. Not surprising that with a surplus of staff and equipment some people are turning to less legal means of earning money. Sad, because this means that when a call comes in with an Indian accent we automatically assume it is a scam and hang up, so “good” outgoing call centres lose business and more leave the country.

Maybe basing your economic growth plan on call centres is a bad idea. Oops – maybe that is happening in the UK too!

Whenever I get one of these calls I simply reply “I don’t have a computer”. That gets rid of them sharpish.

conner says:
11 November 2011

“Sorry – it’s my husbands/wifes computer, but they are working late at the Indian High Commision, can you call back later?”

Stubob says:
11 November 2011

I get at least a couple of these calls a week. They always tell me Microsoft has sent them my details, which must be a lie to start off with else MS would be in real trouble!!!

Anyway I have 2 response.

1. play dumb.
Go along with what they are saying and when they tell me to press the start menu take ages in letting them try and tell me where it is (really throws them) before saying oh did I tell you I am on an MAC

2. be devious
I tell them I have something on the hob would they mind waiting while I switch it off. Then put the phone on the side and carry on with what I am doing. Wastes a lot of their time and very little of mine and it is always good to make them struggle to make me understand!!!

These people are definitely hideous human beings. must be a way of tracking them down!!!

Sheng-ji says:
11 November 2011

Has anyone had the Virgin Media ones – I still can’t decide whether they are genuine or scammers – basically they call up and introduce themselves as Virgin media and then claim they can save you money on your package. Now even if it was Virgin, I don’t believe them for a second, but the bit which makes me think they may be scammers comes next. They ask for your password and ask a few questions to verify who you are. My answer to them is always “You phoned me, it’s up to you to prove who you are to me”

I had three of these calls and then they stopped. Next time I’m going to give fake details so I know if they are scammers or not. Still very disturbing though and I’d love to know if anyone else has experienced the same!

David says:
11 November 2011

Had this many times most recent this week. When they say “Thi is the microsoft service department….” I say “Are you a Microsoft certified engineer?” When they say “Yes” I say “So am I!” The line goes dead immediately (By the way, I am not!)