/ 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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If you have Caller Display (CID) on your phone, a scam will invariably show up as ‘International’ or ‘Withheld’. I only answer these if I fancy some fun like ‘Mr. XX does not accept calls from India’ etc. – so I don’t know if any of these unwanted calls have been a scam. Most phones (apart from the very basic) are CID-enabled. You also have to set it up with your phone service provider, but it’s usually free (if you ask for ‘Privacy at Home’ or something similar). The only problem is you need to see the phone’s display to find out where the call is coming from. It would be very helpful if the ring tone was different for such numbers. Clearly, if they’re stupid enough to divulge their number (ie. it’s shown in the display), best thing is (after hanging up immediately) to report them to your phone company and/or police.

imdra says:
14 November 2011

A friend fell for this scam a week ago. Received a call from PC Support247.co.uk which turned out to be based in India. She allowed remote control of her computer. The friendly chap sorted out genuine problems, ran malwarebytes, CCleaner and revo uninstaller to get rid of the free AVG programme. She then handed over credit card details for K7 Antivirus Premium “the latest version of Kaspersky” (it isn’t, but inferior software from an Indian company). Her credit card was charged accordingly, plus two mysterious sums of 62p, possibly the start of a credit card scam. She realised her error, had to cancel her cards and suspend paypal account, and has deleted everything loaded by PC Support.

Say you’re running Linux, and then hang up.

Gordy says:
7 October 2014

My son quotes Linux to them and they appologize for wasting his time , so now afew weeks later the guys phone him to say that this is Linus support etc. What absolute plonkers they appear to be,

Soundboard them ( google it if you dont know what it is ) , that can keep them amused if not confused,

James harringon says:
16 November 2011

I did get caught with this. But will not be again.They came on sayiny they were a branch of Microsoft and my Laptop was a lttle slow. So I got done as you might say. but I did learn my lesson. Because a few weeks later I got another Phone Call. I had seen a program on the TV about what had happened to me so I kind of new what to do. The person at the other end of the PHONE aws not happy when I said ” I was tapeing this and was going to get in touch with the POLICE” they soon hung up. I do hpoe this may help others.

I’ve NOT been done by this, and can confirm that once you get the person on the other end of the phone to realise you intend ( whether you do or not) to tape the call, they do hang up rather quickly.

It’s not always easy as a) their English isn’t great and b) they’re trying to follow a script, just keep trying and eventually they lose interest.

I’m tempted to start an e-petition, anyone know which dept in the dropdown I should pick ?

Unfortunately you can’t legislate against gullibility. Some people just have a blind spot when it comes to computers. If someone called you and said they could make your car run better if you tell them your credit card number would you believe them?

D. whitham says:
17 November 2011

I have found that a very useful way to get rid of these scammers and con merchants is to tell them catagorically that you never ever buy anything over the telephone and that you will only consider information sent through the post via the postman (snail mail).
The simple reason being that if the caller is genuine they will have your details anyway and you do not give out any personal details to the mystery caller.
Also remember the scammers want your details in a hurry they will not wait around and will not normally send anything that can be traced to them personally, in addition If they do send you any information you can have it checked out by people you trust in your own time and at a pace you are comfortable with.
Do Not Be Intimidated by the caller they cannot see you so just keep hanging up on them and that you report all such calls to the Fraud line or Police.

As an after thought I have remembered that these scammers sound like they are calling from India using similar names and format to the Talk Talk people and I have been suspecting that some of the people who work or have worked for this or similar companies are getting information from Talk Talk, my reason for thinking this is that I have been contacted by these scammers several times saying they are calling from Microsoft or whoever and that my computer has sent them a warning message saying there is a problem with my computer, etc., which is totally amazing as I haven’t been able to get on line since joining Talk Talk. I can only use the local computer facility in the town library until I sort my computer problem out. So the only people that know I am getting the free broadband option is Talk Talk. So I am going to be changing my telephone line provider in the very near future and hope these scammers will stop bugging me.

I wouldn’t worry about it involving Talk Talk. It’s nohing to do with them. I know people in America and Canada who get these calls too. If they phone enough people they’ll find someone who they’re story sounds plausible too.

Just like the Dyson service calls. Got the “nice” woman on the end of teh phone sorting out the date and time of a visit when I said, so should I actually have a dyson if he’scoming to service it. She wasn’t very happy and hung up. Yet her “records” told her I had one. but call enough people and she’ll find someone that does.

Brian in Warrington says:
21 November 2011

Had a telephone call this morning, from a “Microsoft” support engineer, telling me that there was a problem with my computer. Kept him on the ‘phone for a while; they were paying for the call; before asking him how he knew because my PC wasn’t turned on. After a brief silence, I asked him to admit that it was a scam. Again, silence and then he hung up.
The call came from 02538020308.
The December issue of ?Which, page 6, mentions this type of scam and that 51% of victims don’t know how to report them. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t tell us !!

Has anyone reported any of these calls to Action Fraud? There is a link at the top of the page.

I have never done this because the number of the caller is not shown.

I have had 2 calls today supposedly from windows 7 security service wanting to sort out a critical problem with my computer when I received the second call I was very unladylike and told them in no uncertain terms where they could go and that they were never going to have access to my computer

Gwyneth says:
1 December 2011

I’ve just been called from someone purporting to be from Microsoft – he was able to quote my name, first initial, address and postcode and said this was because I had purchased and registered a genuine Microsoft product. Happily, I was already aware of the scam, so when he said “I’m genuine, look me up on Google – how else would I know you even had a computer?”, I replied, “Luck”. I politely told him I had very good anti-virus software and, again politely, asked him if he would kindly remove my telephone number from his list. In my experience, nothing good will ever come from an unsolicited call but I have found that being pleasant and charming whilst not agreeing to their requests does confuse the callers!

Cedric Matthew says:
3 December 2011

Cold call scam, goes something like.
Hello, I’m calling you on behalf of Microsoft, and according to your ISP your PC may be running slow or Internet browser is slow. Now you must let me take control of your PC so I can look at and fix your PC problems, at this point I hung up.
The people he works for are, “helppconline.com”. The point of this scam is to sell their software, £70, £80, £90, think of a number!!

There seem to be several such “Microsoft” scams and several or many outfits making the calls. If you have been called once, the chances are you will be called again because your name, address and phone number are on lists that are bought and sold. That is why telling one lot to buzz off doesn’t stop the calls. I think I read somewhere that the lists are compiled by call agents of UK and Australian mail order etc companies who have offshored their call centres.

Oh no, there’s a problem with my computer. Good bless those gentle folk with Indian accents. And now he has a unique code to prove its my computer, as this code is only on my computer and is only known by the manufacterer. So I asked very politely, “oh please tell what this code is”, nothing … “If you have the code in front of you, please tell me”. he then hung up. This is a slightly new tactic. Shame my computers are all custom built and the only code I would give them is I H8 INDIAN CALL CENTRES. Go this cll a gew hours after someone again with an indian accent rang me asking if I’d had an accident in the last 2 years, just wish I’d replied, my thanks all my bowl movements are fine.

Barbara says:
9 January 2012

Had this call today, told the gentleman in question that there were no computers in this house. He queried this 3 time before I said he must have the wrong number and hung up. Did 1471 the number was 02088195913
This scam bothers me as I have elderly relatives who may fall for something like this. Not sure who to contact with the phone number

xcom says:
12 January 2012

The best way to get rid of them is say your running Linux (pronounced Lin as in lint, nix as in nick x)

They tend not to ring you for quite some time after that

Regardless of the pronunciation, it won’t affect the number of calls you get. These people use phone directories to find their targets and don’t keep records of who has already been called or whether they run Windows or not.

Sally Smith. says:
17 January 2012

January 17th 1.25pm. Just had another call from Indian man, that makes six in two days. Told them I had reported them to the Police, dont know if it will make a difference but would have thought there is an easy way to stop this, we just havent found it yet.

chris McCreery says:
17 January 2012

Wow 6 in two days is the most I’ve heard of Sally…,, I’ve luckily not had any since about a month ago when they called and I followed someone’s suggestion on here that said keep them talking as long as possible and pretend you are doing what they ask. I did and I just kept going along with it saying that my laptop was really slow and that he must be right in that it’s full of virus….he asked if I had another one in the house and although I haven’t I said I have a pc but didn’t use it often as its slower than my laptop, he went on to ask me to turn that one as well, to which I pretended to. Well after all this pretending to answer the doir and silent “giggling” by me as I could hear the excitement in his voice thinking “I’ve got one here”….I announced after 45 mins (as I was running out of excuses) that I was only having him on and that I felt sorry for him as he probably wasnt getting paid much etc and said goodbye. I couldn’t believe that he didn’t put the phone down on me…
I think that because NO ONE in power is doing anything about this then its up to us to waste thier time and hopefully that should put a stop to this for you and hopefully everyone else to.

Never waste a single sec with ’em….. condemn them to purgatory
straightaway like I’ve set out.

It would be very easy to stop if the phone providers and/or government really cared about any of us.

Give us the option to block withheld / unknown / stupid numbers ( yes I did 1471 and the namber that called me was 00000000 ) without us the end user having to pay for such a service. Its so simple.

I thought the telcos already avail this facility.

Only if you pay them, I think BT charge something like £4.30 a month. Not something I wish to spend on calls I have never asked for. Thats why I say it should be free.

And they’re back (yawn) this time the number ringing me is 000000000000 ( that should be 12 0’s).

Had 4 calls in the 7 days so far 🙁

I have been free of these calls for months, so best of luck to those still being pestered on a daily basis. One of the ways I dealt with the calls was to encourage callers to look up Which? conversation and to search for ‘Microsoft’.

I wish I could stop the calls about loans and financial advice. Today I have had the first call about my Sky TV. I am curious to know what I presume is a new scam, but the caller hung up when I said I did not have Sky TV.

The call about your (non-existent) Sky TV may have been an attempt to sell you a maintenance agreement on your satellite dish. It’s not a scam exactly, but all that can go wrong with a piece of metal is rust, and that will be excluded.

Thanks Kenny. I had not thought of that. The number was withheld but some genuine organisations do this and I’ve heard various justifications for the practice.