/ 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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Comments
David Scott says:
10 August 2012

Just had a cold call claimimg he was from Microsoft and that I had a virus on my computer, and that I needed to turn on my computer for him tofix the computer.

I immediately disconnected the call as I don’t have a Microsoft computer, I run a Linux machine.

If you do get a cold call ask for lots of information before giving access to your computer, if they are genuine they will be able to give answers to your questions.

C Young says:
10 December 2012

NEW VARIATION!
Now there is a version calling to ‘educate’ people about the scam. Same set up, very English name with foreign accent and skilled at keeping you talking to find a way in but with the twist of sounding like they are the virtuous ones trying to ‘save’ people from these awful scammers so requests you to go to their website while they are on the line. The patter seemed aimed at making you feel clever (and less suspicious) if you hadn’t fallen for the first scam and worried if you didn’t know. Kept him talking and took the details so I could report them but obviously didn’t do what he asked as suspect it could mean a click on some where to prompt downloading of something nasty to your computer or end up with the suggestion to sign up to paying over some money etc.

But they’re still too stupid to realise that someone with a foreign accent and an English name is going to raise suspicions. They might be clever with technology, but they’re totally brainless about human interaction.

AviationSpirit says:
12 January 2013

NO. Never, ever give access to you computer to a cold caller, whatever they tell you. No good ever came from receipt of cold calls !

Hear my advice! If These Jack-A**es Call String them along as long as you can. Stop them from conning the next poor person. These buggers will try to say that they work for any of the following: microsoft, BT, virginmedia, any internet provider trying to hit lucky. Just for the record, NONE OF THE INTERNET PROVIDERS WILL CONTACT YOU REGARDING YOUR PC.

Also Microsoft have now offically on their website stated “THAT THEY DO NOT CALL YOU!” any problem that you can occur from a microsoft OS, would be fixed within a matter of days, thanks to the windows update function. That is why it was designed for.

If You do allow these buggers onto your system, my advise immediately hang-up the call, unplug your computer from the internet, then contact any respectable IT Technician from electronic stores, comet & Pc world, etc. ask for them to check. Thats all you can do.

Steve says:
22 March 2013

Respectable IT technicians? pc world? comet? You won’t find those there!

New twist – Well, actually old one, but I’ve come across it a lot recently from customers. They go looking for a phone number, for example for HP – they then call the number that shows up on google, and they get the very same scammers – not from hp at all… beware!

Just had a call from an Alex X claiming to be from Technical Maintenance Dept of Windows and saying all the same old things and that they were the only company certified by Microsoft. I said I never touched the computer but would tell my husband if he’d leave a telephone contact number. This was 0208 XXX XXXX. He is calling back later!! I wish this would stop as I’ve had three now and they’re not pleasant.

Great tip for dealing with these scum.

Say “Why YES, I am interested – let me get my computer……”

Put the phone down, and go and walk the dog, have a shower and leave them paying the bill.
Works for all scams

If everyone does this they will go bust.

Good news then!

No, they won’t go bust. You can Skype anywhere in the world for a minuscule amount of money. But it’s still worth while wasting their time.

Katie Joy says:
6 September 2012

I am so fed up with this Microsoft phone scam. I get them everyday! They ask for my dead grandad, then they ask for my elderly grandma who has dementure. Neither of them have or had a computer. But they still insist on calling. Today I had a slanging match with one caller, saying “you’re truly thick, you keep calling and asking for a dead person who never owned a computer. I know that Microsoft will never call me, stop calling me, you’re wasting your time.” When I stopped for air he said “why am I behaving like a pregnant woman!? ” to that I started swearing at him, and finally hung up. We are paying for these calls to be blocked by BT yet they still come through, everyday!!! I cannot tell you how distressing these phone calls are.

Colin Carr says:
10 October 2012

Yep, getting the same thing here from “Nigel” in India! He must think I am a likely victim! I lost my temper with him and now he calls back regularly. I have that phone on answerphone now and he leaves messages like a stalker to pick up the phone. What can you do about nuisance phone calls like this other than pay to go ex Directory! I wish I could phone them at home.

Steve says:
22 March 2013

Maybe ask bt why they are assisting these crooks by allowing them free, unblocked access to your phone line. These calls are easily blocked at exchange level, bt actively encourage these type of scams, hoping that you’ll pay them extra money to block one or 2. How about a free service bt? We dial a number after the call, it logs a negative against that number, once they’ve had ‘x’ number of negatives, they’re not allowed onto the network… easy huh, and if bt struggle with implementing that, give me a call, something I’ve done for a long long time on our personal exchanges.

When they call, and you will recognise who it is by who they ask for, just say you will get them. Put the phone by the side, and carry on with what you were doing. Do not engage in any conversation. They will get fed up after a few minutes and hang up. If it is the same people each time, they will soon get fed up and stop pestering you.

Yesterday, whilst visiting my parents their phone rang. When my dad answered, the caller claimed to be from Microsoft. He told my dad that there was a problem with his computer and that they needed to fix it. I gestured to my dad for me to take over the call as I had heard about these scams.
The gentleman proceeded to tell me that the computer was at risk. I asked him how he knew this and he told me that my license ID was showing as a potential threat in the area. Already a few steps ahead of this parasite, I asked him if he could give me my License ID number. Sounding surprised by such a request, he then rattled off about 25 random digits in such quick succession that it was impossible to write them down. I asked him to repeat it slowly, but he went just as fast. ( this was all part of the scam as no such thing exists)
Well I went along with him for a few moments, for my own pure amusement. I told him that I was sat next to my computer, had switched it on, had pressed alt and ctrl etc. etc. I started to hear the irritation in his voice when I told him that the computer was not responding. He asked me to repeat the process numerous times, but I simply continued with my helplessness.
This is the best bit….. I then said to him very calmly ” I think it’s so clever how you know my computer has a virus when I don’t even own a computer” Silence on the line. (My parents are in their 70’s and have never had or wanted a computer) I told him that the call had been recorded and will be reported to the Police.
His reply…………….. “F*** Off !” How nice.

Please be aware of these scam callers. If my parents did own a computer, they may well have fallen for it. Alert your friends and relatives to be vigilant. Microsoft do NOT make such calls.
I have a feeling he may not phone again for a while.

My mother received a call saying they were from Microsoft and that her computer was infected and he could fix it for her if she allowed him access. As my mother is going through a rough time at the moment she did not think and allowed access to her computer. He showed her a number of files that said they were infected. After 5 to 10 minutes it finally clicked this wasnt right so my mother turned off her Internet and computer. When my mother questioned the man he told her as she had accepted his help even though he hadn’t finished doing what he was doing he was going to take her to court and sue her. Now she is to scared to turn her computer on as there are a couple of folders on her desktop that he put there. If I run a virus scan and delete these folders will it fix the problem or should I do a re-install of windows. Any help would be appreciated.

You’re absolutely right – run a virus scan – but make sure your anti-virus software is up-to-date first. You don’t need to re-install Windows. It’s safest to disconnect from the Internet before running the scan. However, they are unlikely to be true viruses, more likely spyware (a key-logger or similar, which sends passwords to a secure site such as your bank to the perpetrator) – so DON’T use Internet banking or similar until they have been removed. Most modern anti-virus programs can detect spyware as well.

The new icons on the desktop might just be links to where the rogue files really are, so just deleting them probably wouldn’t help. However, if your anti-virus program fails to remove them, you could do so manually:

1) Right click on each and note from Properties where the folder really is.

2) If it says ‘Desktop’, you can delete them from there. Otherwise, go to My Computer and follow through the folder tree to find them, and delete them from there.

Do this as a last resort – they might have put other programs on the computer or altered registry entries – an anti-virus program is best at rectifying these.

Of course the threat to sue is empty, though worrying to an elderly person. Making threats like this is a criminal offence, so I suggest informing the police.

Above all – don’t panic. If you think your bank details might have been compromised, tell the bank – they’re usually very helpful.

Just upset another foreign sounding lady on the phone, I just asked her to stop lying to me if she wanted to talk to me and every sentence she lied. Your computer, LIE, sending out, LIE. I really wish something would be done to stop these “people”. So far I’ve tried asking Wacthdog , nothing, Sky News , nothing to cover this . I’m now waiting to see if Channel 5 news will, but I doubt it, Also going to try Martin Lewis for his new TV show, here goes nothing.

Watchdog, Sky News, Channel 5 News, Martin Lewis…

You can contact as many TV stations as you like but they don’t have any powers to stop foreign scammers. You can say as many times as you like that ‘someone should do something about this’, but it’s up to you and me and everyone who receives these calls to sabotage them.

The sooner we stop asking others to stop the scammers, and start doing it ourselves, the sooner it will end.

The point of contacting TV stations is that hopefully they’ll warn people, so they don’t fall for it. If everyone in the UK was aware of the scam and no one ever fell for it, they’d stop ringing numbers in the UK. And make me PM for a day ( although I’d prefer the title supreme galactic overlord) and I can guarantee they’d stop. Its not difficult it just needs the right people to do something about it. Maybe if we got no.10s direct line and asked the scammers to call as back on our “other” number that would help.

And as you can see from my pointless attempts at getting this scam raised in profile, I am trying to do something about it, I just know that in reality I’m just wasting my time.

Brian says:
6 July 2013

I am in full agreement with your comment well said indeed.

Far too many people post on here and do nothing about it.
They never report it but for some reason they seem to get satisfaction in just posting a comment like “I was called by this number today” and that’s the end of it.
(is this a useful post ?)
If we have any chance of stopping the UK call pests we have to report every single one each and every time they call. Of course this takes a little effort !
If people are truly upset and bothered by these calls then take some positive action and stop them dead – look at this site https://www.truecall.co.uk/home.aspx.
This is the call blocker I purchased and it is the best out of three I have used in the past but also the most expensive. (you get what you pay for)
All the other systems I tried I had to receive the call first then enter the number to block myself but this one, Oh boy, this is the bees knees as no call gets to me at all, UK or any other, unless I say it can.
I truly believe it is about time people stopped moaning on here and took some positive action like telling us all what they have done to stop the calls and not the fact they have received the calls.
Tell us who you report the call to so we can all do it.
Lets combine our strength and close these scumbags down. !

received one of these calls this morning, at 9.02, number witheld, the background noise was obviously a call centre and then an indian guy called Peter came on the line, his English was very good and think the call originated within the uk. he said that he was from Microsoft and that they had noticed a problem with my computer. Strangly enough i had been on the Revlon Corporate site entering request email and the screen froze, I had to reboot my pc to get back on line. Then about 10 mins later this call from “Peter”. Needless to say knew it was a scam, kept him talking asking “What computer?” he said the one at your home – I said “which home we have 3” he then said the town where we actually live. How did he know that? Anyway I kept him talking until i found the police whistle we inherited from a late aunt. Need I say more!!

You ask how he knew the town where you live. The same way he knew your phone number.

Just had a call from one of these people. Told him to f*** *** and hung up. The phone rang straight away and he then called me a m***** f*****. Hilarious, I win.

Aviation Spirit says:
28 September 2012

Don’t know how you think you’ve won…. All you have achieved is shared the same foul-mouthed langauge ! Much better to waste their time with a “So glad you called, but can you hold for a couple of minutes while I deal with the stove ?” And then keep them hanging on, and on, and on while you get on with your life. Eventually they’ll realise that they are not getting paid anything by waiting for nothing to happen. Then you have really won.

Roger, that is not much fun. The idea is to engage in a short conversation to wind them up, and let them think you are seriously concerned. If anyone has the time, let them think they are analysing your computer before dropping the bombshell … that you now have a blue screen and what should you do!!!!

You’re probably correct and next time I will do that. However, this is the first time I’d had one of these calls and I was a little cross. It was very funny how he reacted though! 🙂

Some positive news for once, just a shame no UK authority took the lead. Makes me wonder why we bother having them.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/oct/04/ftc-cracks-down-tech-support-scam

Shirley says:
10 October 2012

We’ve been rung twice today by someone who’s claiming to be from Microsoft wanting details and access to my computer. Took a couple of minutes the first time to realize it could be a scam and the second time they rang, I challenged them, and hung up on them. They said someone’s downloading music from the internet and bringing in all sorts of viruses when my anti-virus software was saying otherwise. They also said it was damaging my motherboard.

There’s a variant on this now – somebody cold-calls, apparently from India, “about your recent minor road traffic accident”. Since I haven’t had a road traffic accident, minor or otherwise, for some years, I just tell the caller they have been misinformed and put the phone down. I think the object of the exercise here is to find somebody who has had such an accident and offer to manage their insurance claim for an upfront fee – has anyone got any further with these people and found out what the scam actually is?

rachel says:
27 October 2012

I just had one of these tossers phone me, I was questioning everything he said, I’ve had 3 calls in 2 days, needles to say i’m getting rather peeved!! They threatened to take me to court for not accepting their help, and then said they would block my computer within 7 days!!! I just replied go ahead block it…….. lets just see if they do……..NOT!

There seems to be a new variation on the block- at least new to me.
I have just been contacted by phone by a guy with a thick Indian or similar accent, giving a very English name, claiming to be educating people about the computer virus scam.

THIS VARIATION wants you to log into their website to be guided through the types of scam. Very insistent and persistent.
I can’t see any benefit from having to be guided through such a site unless by going to it/logging in/registering you give them personal info, end up paying over money or download something unpleasant to your computer.

If anyone knows different I’d like to know please but otherwise let everyone know there is a new one about which to some could sound plausible.

arlesuk says:
6 December 2012

I had one of these calls on Monday 3rd. I had never heard of this scam before but knew something was fishy straight away. I repeatedly asked which company the caller was from and was told Microsoft several times. I had not had my computer on for several days so knew there was something not quite right. Haven’t had a call since but will be ready if there’s another one!!

I got a call from the microsoft scam the other day and I stupidly fell for it. Considering that day I was stressed out so bad. Had sick kids and more. I usually don’t answer numbers I don’t know but for some reason I did. I gave them access to the computer but when they got to the point of asking for Credit card info I noticed that instead of going onto the microsoft site to process a payment they went to the Western Union site- First red flag. At this point it clicked this is a scam. I immediately acted like I had left my wallet with my card in my friends car and he kept pressuring me to give him card info-2nd red flag. then while I was acting like I couldn’t find my wallet The creep started looking at my pics. I made him exit out of them and then he got annoyed with me and said well we will call you back when we are done doing what they were doing. At this point I shut the computer down and Pulled the battery and The hard drive. I now cannot access anything on the computer cause He locked it out and the computer has a password protect on it to begin with. Good thing I needed a new computer and planned to get one the next day. Anyway I immediately contacted the police and bank and froze everything and had my sister change my passwords on my major accounts on a different computer.

I feel stupid for falling for this scam cause its not something I would usually do on a day when i’m all there. But as my Sister said It can happen to anyone. The best thing to do is to research all the possibilities of things like this happening(something I wish I would have done) and keep up to speed on them. If I could do anything to keep someone else from falling for this I would in a heart beat.

Oh and also the company called me back like an hour after I disconnected everything trying to get me to fall for it again! I just told them I wasn’t around my computer and probably wouldn’t be for the rest of the week. They said they would call back this weekend but I now refuse to answer any numbers I don’t know or that come up unavailable!

G Payne says:
8 January 2013

I’ve been phoned several times, they wont give up, the’re using the phone number 00441213680681

Avishek Rungta says:
11 January 2013

Am from India, I know few people who run this business.
I am really shocked how then can do this thing, I just can’t tolerate.
Is there a way so I can report against them, is there any department so I can launch a report against this.
Thanks.

You know Avishek, you really sound like the scammers…

Avishek Rungta says:
12 January 2013

Kermit, While you don’t know the answer then I think you have no right to reply with this kind of b******t comment.

Patrick, Thanks for your information, but do you think it will work, as they are doing this kind of thing sitting in India, As the site actionfraud.org.uk that is the UK oriented site??

Fair point Avishek, but it cannot do any harm to send in a report. The UK is being targeted by calls from India, so it is relevant.

Avishek Rungta says:
12 January 2013

Till the UK authority take some action against this people they will make a big harm and ruin Indian name. So If it was any Indian authority or organization, the action would be better.