/ 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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Craig Thomas says:
30 January 2013

Just wanted to let you know that this scam is still going on. Received a call today (30 Jan 2013). Usual story except instead of claiming there were viruses on my machine they stated that there were a number of Windows Errors which were causing issues. Went along with it to get some more info – they basically get you to open the Windows Event viewer and tell you that the errors shown there are causing your PC to slow down and crash – they ask you to right click an error to see if the delete option is available (which it never is because there isn’t meant to be one!) and they then try directing you to the team viewer website to download and install the legitimate team viewer remote access software, at which point I assume they would take over control of your PC and unleash whatever havoc they want.

I’m getting so fed up with these types of call that my next move is to set-up a premium rate telephone number which will be the telephone number I start giving out to the companies I suspect are selling my details. At least that way if they fall for it I’ll get some recompense!

Every once in a while I clear out my event viewer. Mostly its just a load of old rubbish. You should hear the scammers when you say, “but there’s nothing there”. You can hear the joy in their little voices. “OMG, your computer is about to crash”.

Really, I think not.

I had ‘the call’ a couple of days ago. After a few minutes, I said I was busy and hanged up. They rang back, so this time while he was talking I called over to a non-existent friend to say “can we get the number checked”, “call the police”. He didn’t seem to react to it.

After he suggested going through a number of ‘checks’ , I asked him to hold on for a minute. I put the phone on mute. I heard him calling “hello” a couple of times, but ignored it and carried on with what I was doing. Eventually he rang off ! Not heard from him since.

Maybe somebody could devise a script that we can all use when we are contacted by them, and eventually they will realise we are all ‘singing from the same songsheet’ !

Nee Burgess says:
31 January 2013

I have had many phone calls from this company and normally i tell them that i don’t have the internet at home (which is true) and i put the phone down. Obviously i have no life as a couple of days ago i decided to see how long i could drag the conversation out for. When told that my computer had been hacked and that hackers were currently using my pc to transfer money from people’s bank accounts to their own i tried to act as surprised as i could. Like a damsel in distress i asked for their help in corrrecting the problem. They said that for a lovely some of just £479 they would be able to correct my computer of all of it’s ills, not just now but for my lifetime. Yes not the computers lifetime but it’s contracted under my name so until the day i die (even if i change to an apple mac!) my computer will be protected. After umming and ahhing with them about the price they kept pushing for my card number and expiry date. 28 minutes later i think they may have come to the idea that maybe i wasn’t going to part with my money and then the laughable threats came. They told me that they were going to call my internet provider, tell them to cut off my service as i was knowingly allowing criminal activity to take place then the metropolitan police were going to take my computer away, arrerst me and i would either have to pay a fine in excess of £200,000 or go to jail. When i asked if he was threatening me he simply replied “no this isn’t a threat, this is a fact!” Sadly i couldn’t hold it together any more and i laughed stating that i don’t even have an interenet connection in my home and that i was just stringing him along to see how long the call would last. As you can imagine he wasn’t impressed and said “the police are coming” before slamming the phone down.

layton says:
4 February 2013

I got a call this morning at 7.30 am… I pointed this out to ‘Travis’ who had a thick accent from Calcutta, I asked him to ring back later (when I was able to get my thoughts together’ He did at 2.30 and I was ready. I asked him for how he got my number and name and he told me from my Microsoft registration, I asked where he was calling from and he told me Manchester however his number was withheld. He was most insistant that I got my computer right away…quickly lol… I told him I was disabled which is correct and I asked him to wait till climbed the stairs. he waited 20 minutes. After my cup of tea I asked him how I turned the computer on as I am ‘new to this’ by this time he was really agitated tho I kept thanking im for being so helpful in sorting my terrible problem out…. after another 10 minutes I asked him will all my friends I play ‘online bingo’ with all have a virus, I could actually hear this guys blood pressure soring… another 15 minutes of me pretending to be totally confused I asked him did he also have a Mac computer. He slammed the phone down so hard im sure he broke it…..but low and behold he rand back 10 mins later saying he was sorry he was cut off. He asked did I have a Microsoft computer and I said yes, another 20 minutes of playing stupid was enough….I decided to own up. I told him he was an idiot to believe all I told him and was an idiot if he thought his scam would work with me…. he said it wasnt a scam, I then told him I had taped his call and was about to put it on you tube and pass it on to the Police ( not that they can do much it seems) He told me my computer would blow up and I asked him to repeat that…he hung up.
Please treat these guys as they deserve…..waste their time and money. Until something can be done.

I like to play with them too, and I really record them: http://timerider.co.uk/calls/scam.mp3
There is a part 2 where I give them access to a computer so I can see what they’re up to (I repair computers daily, many after their owners having been victim to these fraudsters). http://timerider.co.uk/calls/scam2_.mp3

You’ll find both of those recordings very entertaining 🙂

Viva says:
16 April 2013

Having just received one of these calls, I googled the scam and came across your recordings. OMG I have never laughed so much. You are superb, a natural comedian, I dont know how these operators had the patience. I will adopt a similar approach if I am called again. Thank you for these treasures, your a star wing commander!!

Jude says:
21 March 2013

Had a phone call 3 p.m. today – so called microsoft on line support – told him to ring back tomorrow – my usual tactic. Rang again at 4.p.m. husband told him to get lost – guy on phone became very abusive and threatened to shut down our computer unless we complied and switched the computer on immedately. Hubby told him I was out with computer at a meeting – I was sat next to him – and for him to ring back at 6 p. m. He rang at 6.05 an his currently hanging on the phone waiting for my ‘technophobe hubby’ to try to switch computer on. Ooops – he has just rung off!!! Very foreign sounding man called Jason Wright so called based in London and phone number of 0208 123 8931.

Franz Grimley says:
21 March 2013

Latest scam…I got suckered into this latest one. Clever stuff this…’Sir, you were contacted last year about computer virus well we are here, on behalf of the Indian government, who want to refund the money you were charged,’ My reply was that at no point would I give them my bank details…20 minutes later, after then taking over my PC and having me create a Western Union account (used to pay me back of course) there is was…..will you please enter your bank details! At that point I knew, without a doubt, that I was being conned. When I insisted that they give me back access to my PC they then began to blackmail me by saying I’d need to buy a new computer or pay them for the password they had inserted and without which I couldn’t open the computer. I told them I needed my PC to be able to contact my doctor….only then did they give me the password. which, incidentally, is www
I hope that someone somewhere catches these b******s! (I appologise for the language)

I had a somewhat similar call recently. I think he said they wanted to repay me the insurance for a loan that I took out. I said I couldn’t remember taking out a loan (knowing full well that I hadn’t). He insisted that I did take out a loan. I said if you want to repay me the loan (!!) then please do, but he said it was only the insurance. Then he told me it was with Nat West bank. I told him I don’t bank with them. After a few moments of ‘umming and erring’ he rang off.

The only good thing is that he didn’t want to take over my computer!

Toffer says:
23 March 2013

Give them the number to your local police station then tell them to ring you back in 10 minutes, let them deal with it.

Robert Cornwell says:
1 April 2013

I don’t understand all this furore about con tricksters on the phone. Yes, it’s a nuisance receiving these calls at all hours; but in this age of 24/7 global media coverage and social networking, doesn’t everyone realise that the simplest and failsafe solution is (unless you recognise your caller personally, and you might want to verify this first) just put the phone down. That’s what I do.

[This comment has been slightly edited for bad language. Thanks, mods.]

Brian says:
23 May 2013

We also have had calls from this number along with several other numbers many of which were number withheld.
Having suffered this for a long time I found a call blocker and purchased it for about £35 then paid another £35 for my number to be taken off various lists. This had to be paid each year.
The problem with this call blocker is that I had to enter the numbers by hand using my telephone which means I had already received the call. Often I had to dial 1471 to get the number then enter it myself.
After a year or so the scam calls increased even though I kept entering the numbers and kept a record of them on my computer.
Talking to a friend and saying I felt this call blocker was useless I was introduced to a new device I had never heard of called True Call.
I have to say this system did the job and did it well I have not received a single scam call since I installed it.
My phone can be set up on the internet then synced with my home phone by the press of a button.
I can see a record of all calls received or made along with all numbers on the block list.
I can block complete country or area codes or single numbers by a key press.
I can even record calls by the press of a single button and play back on my computer.
This is an amazing blocker and I highly recommend it to any person suffering with scam calls.
Check it out here.
A major point with True Call is that they will set it all up for you on the web site then sync it with your home phone they are so helpful it is amazing.

I can totally support Brian’s views above on how well TrueCall performs. I’ve been using the device for about 18 months now. The call log that you can access via the website control panel shows just how many calls it intercepts – and the volume of them that hang up when they realise the call is being screened.
It makes you realise how many nuisance calls you might be getting – in the last 12 months, 38% of my incoming calls were from unrecognised numbers which hung up when TrueCall intercepted the call. And by having them intercepted automatically, it doesn’t disturb me from what I’m doing!
I think I read about TrueCall in Which? 2 or 3 years ago, and when the nuisance and Microsoft scam calls started to increase, I wanted to do something about it.
A most useful gadget!

Gey Fox says:
31 May 2013

Another cheaper unit is CPR Call blocker. At £40 it is much cheaper and works very well.


Brian says:
31 May 2013

I agree it is much cheaper but you did not mention you have to enter the number to block yourself.
By this time you have received the call.

I know this as my first unit was a CPR but the calls kept coming in fact, INCREASING week by week.

It is a fact, you get what you pay for but the choice is yours.

Mr J Ring says:
29 May 2013

I wanted to make Which? members aware of my experience with ”PC Cleaners” who claim to be a subsidiary of Microsoft based in Luton – Beds. They took over my PC and took my card details, and by the time I realised they’d caused more harm than good I lost £157 and had to call a technician out.

Abhishek Rungta says:
29 May 2013

Instead of sharing the story, why not you people report to the Govt. organizations to band this kind of calls, to start some campaigns and to report to the Indian embassy regarding this call centers to take some actions against them.

It should be done immediately.

AviationSpirit says:
29 May 2013

It’s really rather painful to hear of so many people still being taken in by this scam. Never, ever, take any notice of someone offering to help you with your computer when making a cold call to you. Nobody with any authority will ever make such calls.

pat says:
15 June 2013

iv had several calls even when i said its a scam they were still insisting i switch on my computer i just hang up now but it has made me wary of how i use my laptop now

Courtney Riggs says:
19 June 2013

Had a ‘Microsoft’ call today. I told them I didn’t have viruses and the guy (with Indian accent) asked me how I knew, and if I was a technician. I said that I didn’t have a computer and he paused for a moment, then said I was a liar and that I wasn’t fooling him. Then I hung up because we was giving me attitude. What a nasty piece of work.

Brian says:
20 June 2013

The sad but funny part of your story Courtney is the man was correct in his closing statement as you it seems you do have a computer…lol
Yes I agree these calls are dreadful but we can all stop them you know.
Stopping them is proportional to how much you value you tranquility with your phone.
I purchased a beautiful device from Truecall this stopped ALL and I mean ALL unwanted calls.

+1 for TrueCall ! I purchased one of their call intercept devices about 20 months ago. It’s been brilliant at stopping the “Microsoft Scam” calls, as well as intercepting the nuisance calls from so-called “surveys”, PPI reclaiming companies, and other cold calls from companies you have no current interest in. If you subscribe to their web interface, you can see the numbers that called you and get stats on the persistent ones.
A really good ionvestment which I fast saw mentioned in Which? magazine about 3 years ago.

TrueCall is doubtless a very useful device, but must be rather expensive for those who need it most-OAPs for example.
Unsolicited calls are simply another nail in the coffin of the landline. I am seriously thinking of getting rid of mine and sticking to my mobile. It displays the caller’s number-or lack of it- for nothing.
If BT wants the landline system to continue it had better solve the problem of cold-calling pretty quickly. I know it provides a good source of revenue but in the long term it is bound to have a bad effect on BT’s income as subscribers simply disconnect their landlines.

Brian says:
20 June 2013

In reply to Anthony I would say I may well be classed as an OAP at the age of 75 but would prefer to be called a re-cycled teenager as OAP seems to imply that I am destitute for some reason.
I purchased my Truecall at a cost of 120 pounds, expensive if you can’t afford it but I could.

I felt it better as a disabled person to get the call blocker than to continualy answer scam calls day and night

I also get them on my mobile so now have one on mobile phone.

Doing away with your landline will achieve little as first it will not stop scam calls and second to call 08 numbers on a mobile can end up costing a lot more than a call blocker over the year.

Being a poor OAP I just can not afford to pay any more for my phone calls. !!

I had a live cold caller (survey) this morning. “I am not selling anything”. Anyway, caller display gave me their number and I shall report it to TPS.

TalkTalk don’t charge for caller display.

Me Today says:
20 June 2013

01274792327 Windows Services Agency. Number registered in Bradford, line provided thru Cable & Wireless. Admin password locked out my father in law (in his 70’s), demanding money for a new ‘warranty’ for Windows. I managed to open the computer here are the passwords they were using… Won, won, Wonder, wonder, Wonder123, wonder123. Hope this helps others. My Father In Law still does not understand how or why this has happened to him, no matter how many times and different ways I explain the SCAM to him. These are horrible nasty predatory people.

wev says:
20 June 2013

Tell Action Fraud about it


Tony says:
6 July 2013

Just had a cold caller from ‘Windows Solutions’ I ask for a telephone number to call him back, he still persisted in trying to get me to turn mine on before he would give me a number . I did say I thought it amazing that microsoft would call every customer working windows, especially like us there are at least 4 computers in the house. He also had a Indian accent as other have mentioned. I was just giving him my computer details and said mine was a ‘linova’ sounds good, which he did not recognise and then hung up. I like the idea of pretending to boot up and making excuses, perhaps next time. He was very persistent that I was the owner obviously to get any details that may be mine on the machine.