/ 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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(Indian accent) “Am I speaking with Mr. Anthony Kaye?”. Me:- “Yes you are. Goodbye” (click).
This is the way these conversations invariably go. I’ve been doing it for at least 2 years. Instead of having these calls daily they have thinned out to weekly-which may just be coincidence.
Of course they are not all from Microsoft, but who cares?. They’re either trying to flog you something or it’s another sort of scam.

Like many others I suppose, I had an email from Microsoft communications dept. Iwas able to reply to them, so I told them about this scam (as if they didn’t already know!) and that if they can send out advertising blurb, they can also send out an alert about the scam.
Will they do something about it-probably not, but here’s the link if anyone else wants a go:-

At least I think it’s the link-I’m not really that computerate!!

[Hello Anthony, we’ve removed the link as it appears it was a link to your personal inbox, which people won’t be able to visit. Thanks, mods.]

I’ve had two of these calls within a week. Dialling 1471 afetr the last call it revealed their number as 05350000141 which I’ve looked up on Google and it appears to be a Turkish mobile. On both occasions I’ve told them in no uncertain terms what they can do. Next time I’ll play along with their game keeping well away from my PC just to waste their time.

Wightweb says:
1 February 2012

I have had about 20 of these calls on the Isle of Wight, only the last one said that they were Microsoft, and a neighbour did pay out. I knew immediately that it was impossible for them to know what was on my computer and still be legal. I switched a few years ago to Linux operating system which is much more secure and is free, I now just make the experience for them very disagreable or just string them along for a while to waste there time, anything to keep them from ringing my elderly mother and others. Have been on all the preference sites for phone, mail etc for years and have renewed regularly but these people don’t care.
Many British companies are using these indian help desks to avoid the restrictions of the phone preference list. Something should be done about this and similarly they use American companies to Email Spam you with adverts which the unsubscribe does not work and confirms that there is someone on the end of the email address.

I was phoned AGAIN last night by an Indian chap asking for me by name and claiming to be a Microsoft engineer asking me to go and log onto to PC. After stringing him along for about 5 minutes and generally winding him up, he them proceeded to tell me that he was going to come round to my house with a gun and shoot me, murder me and then kidnap my daughters and wife. From what I said to him about having a non existing BT line trace on my line, he knew that I could not trace where he was calling from and when I suggested to him that he was trying to scam me and get me to hand over my card details, he openly admitted that was what he was trying to do. After some more of the same threats he eventually hung up on me.
How are people like this allowed to get away with making these sort of threats over the phone!!?

I had a call yesterday from worldwide web services and went with the string-along option as I find that if I simply put the phone down, they keep ringing back. However when it eventually became clear that I was not going to give him remote access to my PC, he stated that if I didn’t he would pass my details onto ‘all the other people who do this and I would keep getting phone calls every day, even every hour’, until I did. At this point I told him he had gone too far and put the phone down. Half an hour later he rang again – the number just comes up as ‘International’ on my phone so I answered, just in case, and also out of curiosity. It was the same person and he said “I told you I would ring again……….” in a smug but threatening tone. I put the phone on my desk and left him talking to himself. He eventually cut the line after about 5 mins and I haven’t heard anything since. I too don’t understand why they can get away with threatening phone calls, but I will continue to leave all people like this talking to themselves and not enter into any conversation – perhaps this will work better!

After months without any calls, the Microsoft scam calls have restarted. Until there is a way of dealing with this, the solution must be to help everyone understand the risks. The easiest solution seems to be to help make everyone aware of the dangers of unsolicited calls.

If you have a computer problem, then seek advice from a reliable source. If you are called by a company which you already use, look up their number and call them back.

Ken B says:
10 February 2012

February 10th, this morning, indian but with a terribly thick accent. Asked him how the weather was in Karnataka – puzzled response.

Told him I didn’t have a computer except for an old Abacus – kept him going for a good five minutes – it cheered me up immensely.

Take ’em on, keep ’em talking

Suggsy69 says:
11 February 2012

Had one of these calls today, love em. Kept em on the line for a good 10 minutes while we “waited” for my PC to boot up. Engaging in polite conversation the weather where this person was was normal weather, whatever that is???? Eventually my PC “booted” and thats when it told me where she could stick this phone call.

Waste their time people!!!

Chris McCreery says:
11 February 2012

This is what I keep saying…. If you waste thier time then a, they are not calling anyone else (such as that poor lady that was stung by them), b, it shows them we are aware of them and hat they are doing, especially if you tell them at the end of the call. I managed to water 45 minuets of thier time the last time they callec which was over a month ago now, and told them at the end of the call that we are all aware of what they do. Touch wood I haven’t had a call since, but when they do I’ll do this again and again. If I haven’t got time to wind them up then I’ll say that I’ll go and turn my laptop on and just put the phone on the side on loudspeaker, you’ll be surprised how long they’ll wait before hanging up. I think if more people did this sort of thing then it might just stop the calls, if not from everyone then just you would be good, wouldn’t it?

It’s all very well people having the time on their hands to string these scammers along, but not all of do so!.
It should be up to Microsoft to alert all UK computer users to these scams. If they can send out ad. blurb they can do this. I’ve asked them to do so with no effect. It’s a dereliction of their duty to us, who, after all, keep them in business.

Absolutely agree about people having time on their hands. I have spent a long time chatting to the scammers and realised that all I was doing was achieving was wasting my own time. It’s not just the computer scam calls that do this but all the unsolicited phone calls I receive, despite being registered with the TPS.

Even if Microsoft alerted all registered users of Windows, it would not help me. I don’t use it.

I don’t see why it is Microsoft’s job to alert us on this and tell us how to use our common Denver,

Ment to say common sense

It’s not us is it xcom?. It’s those, like OAPs, who use computers but don’t necessarily have the knowledge to realise what’s going on.

Tbh I work for a company which offers support to people with computer problems, even if you didn’t buy it from us we would still advise you accordingly if someone were to phone saying “Microsoft rang…………”

We have calls from people every day with this problem that go along with what there told rather than calling someone like us for help which is more reputable than a cold caller.

There are warnings everywhere about scams. In TV and radio consumer and news programs and newspapers you are told to be wary of unsolicited approaches about all sorts of things, as well as the oft repeated phrase, ‘if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is’. Yet still you constantly hear of people believing they’ve won £5 million in a lottery they never entered, or convinced by an email that they will receive 15% of a $74 million windfall if they hand over their bank details.

Even if Microsoft sent a warning email to every Windows user on earth, there is still a hardcore of the population who will be oblivious to it. As hard as it may be to swallow, there is still a sucker born every minute.

These are none so deaf as those that will not hear.

So are you suggesting that we do nothing and allow people to be victim of scams, etc?

You may not have been a victim, and I have not, but I am fairly sure that we are contributing to the cost of dealing with problems, in the same way that honest people support the actions of shoplifters.

Let’s look for solutions and not just feel superior.

Of course not everybody is going to take notice of the myriads of warnings thrown at them from all sorts of directions on all sorts of subjects. I keep my eyes open, but the first I heard of this scam was when I was first called. My point is that it can’t do any harm to alert all microsoft users to it. The elderly in particular need all the protection they can get.
Another point. I suppose I win $1m online at least weekly. I always press the “phishing scam” button. Does this alert have any effect other than to delete it?

I still can’t see why the phone companies shouldn’t be forced into provding a withheld number blocking service for FREE. (I know they’ll resist it, like all companies in the the UK, they’re just too greedy.) This windows scam is worldwide, if they can’t get through to the UK, they’ll either stop ringing us, there’s probably plenty of saps in the rest of the world, or they’ll have to start revealling their numbers, if the latter the authorities can then take action. If the former even better.

The authorities are taking action, one group of people got arrested and charged and found guilty after making about £74 million

transporter says:
17 February 2012

I have just had a call from microsoft (apparently), warning me that my computer has a virus. I didn’t think it was genuine, as the person on the other end of the phone couldn’t provide a phone number or email address to respond to. Told them I was busy and they have arranged an “appointment” to call me back. I agree that the withheld number barring should be free. Microsoft should send a warning through with the huge amount of updates they send, surely it wouldn’t take much to send a text file and mark it “scam warning”.