/ Technology

Update: the true cost of the ‘Microsoft support’ scam call

Cartoon of man with phone

Have you been called by bogus Microsoft support scammers? We’ve heard from readers who’ve been conned into paying hundreds after falling victim. We’ve spoken to Microsoft to find out the scale of the scam.

The phone rings and there’s a voice on the line telling you they’re aware you’re having computer problems, but not to worry – they’re with Microsoft, and they’re here to help. It’s a complete lie, and the opening gambit of an all-too-successful scam.

The person on the end of the line has no idea how your PC has been behaving lately. And they’re certainly nothing to do with Microsoft. They’re just after your cash.

These ‘tech support’ scammers will typically ask for remote access to your PC. They may then infect it with malware that could lift credit card details from your computer. Or they could simply charge you through the nose for PC ‘support’ that you never even needed.

Conned out of hundreds

Which? member Walter was conned out of £130 by a company claiming to work with Microsoft. Not only was he convinced to buy a £59 subscription, Walter was forced to pay a further £70 to have his computer fixed by a professional after the cold callers made his computer almost unusable. Action Fraud confirmed Walter was a victim of a scam and after Which? intervened on his behalf, his bank refunded the full £130.

Walter still gets cold calls from time to time, but now he doesn’t hold back:

‘The last time they called, I gave them a piece of my mind. It gave me the chance to inform them about the damage they had done to my computer and the cost of fixing it, which I must say made me feel a bit better.’

Scale of the ‘tech support’ scam

The scale of this scam call, which has been doing the rounds for nearly three years, is staggering. According to figures from Microsoft, one in five people surveyed in the UK had received one of these scam calls since 2010. Of those who have received a call:

  • Over a third said the caller tried to sell them something.
  • Over a fifth were asked to permit the caller remote access rights to their computer.
  • Over a fifth were asked to download some software.
  • And 18% were asked outright for credit card information.

According to Microsoft, half of the victims were aged 55 years or over, and the average amount lost has been a painful £745. Stuart Aston, Microsoft’s chief security advisor, told us:

‘It’s a dreadful crime. It targets vulnerable, often elderly people, and it can cost them a large amount of money. It’s a huge loss for the individual victim, but added up, thousands of successful scams like this can reap a small fortune for the criminals behind them.’

And Aston’s no stranger to the calls himself: ‘Somebody even called me once on my work phone here at Microsoft, claiming they were from the Windows support team.’

What’s Microsoft doing about the scam?

Microsoft’s working alongside international police agencies to tackle the scammers directly, but progress has been difficult. Many of the call centres are based overseas, and they change their names and tactics frequently.

At Which?, we’re campaigning to cut down nuisance calls and texts. However, this scam is more than a nuisance – it’s a criminal issue. Microsoft should continue raising awareness and working with police in order to stamp this scam out once and for all. And if you think you’ve been a victim of one of these tech support scam calls, run a virus scan, alert your bank and contact Action Fraud to report the scam.

Update: 30 June 2017

Four people have been arrested in England on suspicion of fraud. The arrests came after a two year investigation into scam calls from fraudsters pretending to be Microsoft IT support staff.

A collaboration between City of London Police and Microsoft saw the arrest of a man and a woman from Woking in Surrey, and a man and a woman were arrested in South Shields, Tyneside.

While the inquiry found that many calls came from India, the four arrested in the England have been accused of involvement in the scam.

Last year there were 34,504 computer software service fraud reports made to Action Fraud, with attributed losses of £20,698,859.

Computer software service fraud accounts for 12% of all reports to Action Fraud, making it the third most reported fraud type.

Comments
Rowena Leat says:
8 July 2018

Just got screwed by these guys as well can’t do anything about it now. But next time say you poured some coffee down the keyboard and hope they fall for it.

David Milton says:
3 November 2018

I only use Linux and therefore can tell these disgusting wastes of he air te rest of us breath
exactly what their parentage was within 3 seconds of lifting the phone. I have been able to do this for many years now but although subscribed to the telephone preference system ,
(which cannot exclude calls from abroad) the number of calls I have received in recent weeks has increased exponentially having eight calls yesterday six the day before 4 in two hours this morning, of these calls received over the last few weeks , about 60% were from u.k. landline numbers.
I am a firm believer in deterrents with execution being the highest of these possible sentences they tend to achieve a steadying mindset on the population as they have to consider the possible results of their intended actions, this works down the criminal severity levels so that even littering the street causes thought from the intendant litterer.
whereas the free room and board of the current system seems quite attractive to the potential recidivist, sooner than to try to earn income enough to provide these essentials.

I am a fairly old person and have been mucking about with computers since the 1980s but still have been caught with 1 or 2 scams and very many viral type attacks over the years, and am really concerned that these scams are all aimed at the most vulnerable so the persons carrying them out need to be threatened with the higher level of punishments that I would like have returned into law.

Ranting now over . David Milton

I have said again and again that American authorities take action against those scammers while this country “sits on its hands ” well I have now been fully justified by the latest news in this direction from India .
What did I say ?? against criticism that —quote- “its impossible to trace them ” etc even though I said it was -guess what ? USA authorities in conjunction with Microsoft did just that .
No wonder India didn’t want to get to the bottom of it , it generated about $28 Billion in Annual revenue employing –1.2 Million people but as I have always said the USA looks after its citizens -straight from the NYT –

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/28/technology/scams-india-call-center-raids.html?ref=oembed
and for those of a highly technical nature read-

https://securitee.org/files/tss_ndss2017.pdf from Stonybrook University this is one for the deep analysis data software employees among the posters here.
Dont say I never brought it to public attention of the way its done.

I have book-marked and downloaded the webpage /PDF.

The New York Times article was about scammers sending pop-up messages to people’s computers, pretending to be from Microsoft, etc, and waiting for them to call back, not about making outgoing cold calls by telephone.

They also used the phone John. Read the articles below the end of the text.-Quote-
Some of the callers in the operation also pretended to be offering grants or payday loans linked to a borrowers paycheck, prompting victims to pay a fee upfront before they could receive the fictitious loan, the 2016 indictment says. For example, a man in Houston was told he should pay a $195 fee to get a $1,000 loan, which he never did.
The defendants were of Indian origin living in the United States and coordinating with the call centers in India, federal officials said, citing information obtained partly through their plea agreements.
It was all linked together .

Yes, I saw that. Luckily that particular scam does not seem to have reached here – yet.

A tiny minority of the Indian population is still an enormous number, of course.

DerekP says:
3 December 2018

I’ve just had one of these scam calls from 01624 627689.

The caller had a pronounced foreign accent and told me that my PC had been been hacked and might, for instance be being used for drug dealing.

The caller seemed to have got my name and address from the phonebook. That’s easy to do, as I’m not ex-directory, but Microsoft wouldn’t have those details…

The caller tried to navigate me towards http://www.anydesk.com, by asking me to type that into the Windows run box. Sadly that didn’t do anything on my PC, either from XP (no network connection there) or from LXLE (ALT+R does nothing there…).

In giving instructions, the caller referred to the “C T R L” and the “A L T” keys. He seemed unaware that British PC users refer to those as the “control” and “alt” keys.

I did manage to waste over 10 minutes of his time before he realised he wasn’t going to scam me. He then started asking why I wasting his time and mine. I said I happy to waste his time, if that protect others from his scam.

Barbara Newman says:
1 February 2019

I am trying to find the real ‘Smart Guys’ not just the scammers who call themselves Microsoft, they have not caught me out. I joined the ‘true’ Smart Guys and paid my fee, they were very good, then had scam calls and they even knew my special code and lots of information about my membership. Where are the genuine Computer experts now.

“Smart Guys ” the USA computer company Barbara ?
They sell products relating to computers , if so their website is full of trackers and third parties .
Genuine computer help websites have few if any trackers .