/ 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
ToGo says:
24 May 2013

I had one of these calls last week. After the caller had gon on for a couple of minutes I just said “You do realise that this call is being recorded” There was a sharp click and the bye bye scammers

Roy King says:
24 May 2013

Give them all a load of foul mouthed abuse, they soon stop calling

H C Cowen says:
24 May 2013

I had FOUR (!) silent calls yesterday (May23rd). The caller’s number in each case was listed as 00000. Only two so far today.

Phil says:
25 May 2013

I knew it was a scam straight away. I first had some fun by playing along for a while, then I calmly accused the caller of being a criminal. He hung up, and I’ve not had another call since!

Er Indoors says:
25 May 2013

I am now 78 and had my first computer when I was 70. There were not so many scams about at that time, but even so I have always been wary of cold calls of any kind, email, texts, “snail mail” postal scams, phone calls or calls at the doorstep.

Before I bought my first desk top I went on several Computer courses, either free or subsidised, and my first PC tutor impressed upon the students the importance of all aspects internet security protection.

There is so much good advice about how to protect yourself. My advice is always be suspicious, even if the call turns out to be genuine. If contact is genuine, then nothing has been lost anyway.

erik99 says:
25 May 2013

I had a call from “the technical department of your internet provider.” When I asked, “Which provider is that?” The reply was, “We deal with BT, Talktalk, and all the main providers.” If they can’t even say who your provider is, how can they expect people to take them seriously? I put the phone down at this point.

David Whitfield says:
25 May 2013

Hi guys just had a phone call now saying he was Microsoft genius 35 something like that saying my computer could have malware and can I goto it and check it out blah blah, the number was international and was a foreign gentleman, was this light phone ll or scam

Graham King says:
27 May 2013

This was the scam this article is about

jgb113 says:
25 May 2013

I have had a call from “windows” about poor performance, they wanted all the usual things including trying to have control of my computer.Unlike many of the correspondents above they did reveal that they were based in Singapore although the accents were Indian.
They tried to get me to purchase a protection package from Click4 Protection at vast expense, this company may be perfectly respectable for all I know but doubts must be raised due to the fact that the only contact is via telephone numbers in the UK and USA. Investigation of the UK number reveals that it is allocated to Cable & Wireless. To complete the circle Cable & Wireless has an involvement in the Singapore system though without doubt no involvement in the scamming. Incidentally the Click4 protect website was created in Pune India.

Weve had 2 calls this week claiming to be from Microsoft the 1st call my husband took and hadn’t heard about this scam and nearly got duped as he isn’t as computer literate as me i’m not top notch either but anything i want to know i ask my eldest son and he does know his stuff. So my husband to the guy to ring back later when i was their to deal with it. Later in the week someone rang again claiming to be Microsoft so i spoke with them and then i told them there was nothing wrong with my computer, i had run spyware and malware through it and everything was fine. I had done this as soon as i knew of the first call to my husband just to be sure. I also changed my passwords pretty quick. Up to press ive heard nothing since but im half expecting to do so.

cynicalSue says:
27 May 2013

Beware also the ones who say they are from BT. Also with Asian accents, usually female.. As BT do use a lot of call centres overseas these calls can be a little harder to spot for the unwary. I asked her what was the name of her company and she kept saying “BT, London, you have a problem with your computer etc”.. When I said I didn’t have a computer (of course I do have one) so how on earth could I have a problem with it, she carried on saying I did!! This in itself should ring bells if there was any lingering doubt as I’m sure a genuine BT caller would have given a better answer than that! My number one rule with ALL cold callers, and I do mean ALL….I don’t care if hey are genuine or not , is to say immediately “I’m sorry I don’t answer cold callers” then PUT THE PHONE DOWN not giving them chance to waffle on and persuade you about anything at all….it’s tough if they are genuine callers but I take the view they shouldn’t be calling me in the first place, if I want anything from anyone I will call them….The Great British public are just too polite, especially older ones like myself who were brought up not to be rude to anyone or interrupt . These scammers play on that fact, so come on oldies…toughen up. It’s OK to be rude to these people and hang up. If they are genuine callers they will understand your wariness and will find other methods to get in touch….like writing a good old fashioned letter? lol

garth says:
27 May 2013

I was conned and it cost me £158 . I reported the scam to Barclaycard but as I had given my card numbers and the mony had been paid by Western Union they refused to pay up, so I have lost this money. Is there anyway one get get recompense It all happened a long while ago in January

wev says:
31 May 2013

You might be able to. Make a report at your local police station and ask if there’s a victims compensation scheme.

See someone at your local Citizens Advice Bureau as well.

A.ARCHER says:
28 May 2013

“I had a good one this week,” same old thing, A Indian man saying that my P.C. had a problem. I replied by saying ” i did not have a P.C, ,” to which he said “yes you have”,,,, I said “I am 81 years old(not true) and have not got one” He came back with “”””””””””””””” IT IS ILLEGAL NOT TO HAVE A COMPUTER “””””
I then said “IT IS ILLEGAL TO MAKE PHONE CALLS LIKE THIS ,,PLEASE GO AND F**K YOU SELF.”To which put the phone down.

Fred Norwood says:
29 May 2013

My response to these scam calls, of which I have had quite a few, has been to let the caller ramble on while I express concern that my computer could be so ill. Then I’ll ask them for the IP address of my computer (which they can’t provide). This is usually followed by the call being terminated by them. No need to be nasty – just expose them for the frauds they are.

Tim Smith says:
30 May 2013

My wife and I have recently become victims of this scam, the organisation in question being called Smart Support Guys. Their website says that they are based in Dubai. We paid them £88.45, unfortunately.

We stopped the NatWest Mastercard credit card. Their initial response to my request for reimbursement was to say that I had to give them an independent report on the computer. As I have been quoted £50 for this by PC World, I am not inclined to comply.

Does anyone know whether I am likely to succeed?

wev says:
31 May 2013

Talk to the Citizens Advice Bureau, and ask NatWest if they’ll refund the £50 as well as £88.45, if PC World finds you were scammed.

six says:
30 May 2013

A recording of such a call from 30th May 2013
https://soundcloud.com/sixox/technical-support

Tim Smith says:
2 June 2013

Thank you, wev – good advice. I have put the matter to my “Private Banking Manager”, as it dawned on me that it was the sort of thing that she should sort out for me. We’ll see! Is she doesn’t sort it out I may persist directly with Mastercard and rasie the question of their paying the PC World charge.

wev says:
2 June 2013

Let us know how it turns out.

If you have to go to Mastercard directly, it might help to get a police crime number first, which you can get from Action Fraud or your local police station. They might take it more seriously if you have a pcn.

Tim Smith says:
2 June 2013

Yes, I will do. I have reported the matter to Action Fraud and got a number, thank you, which I shall pass on.

Rosemary Lury says:
4 June 2013

I had one of these scam calls about a year ago – the gentleman on the end of the phone said he was from Microsoft support and that my computer had been infected with a virus and would crash in minutes if i did not let him take over the computer. I was on my laptop at the time and told him i had just run my security scan – which was true actually – and it had not revealed any problem He claimed this was something that could get through security software. When I refused to comply with his request he got very agitated and told me “well when your computer crashes in five minutes don’t ring us asking for help!” Needless to say nothing happened to my computer but I have to admit they can be very persuasive and I was very relieved that all remained well. I did a 1471 and got a recognisable number but did not know who to ring with that information so thank you Which for giving us a number to ring in future. I did talk to my local computer advice centre who told me they had other customers who had been a victim of the scam. They took the telephone number and said they would pass it to the appropriate authorities but did say that the scammers change their phone numbers frequently so are difficult to trace.

Our Tech team has put together a new post about the Microsoft scam, looking at the numbers: http://blogs.which.co.uk/technology/news/the-microsoft-support-scam-hits-one-in-five-uk-households/

There’s a fancy graphic as well.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the linked article is not up to normal Which? standards.

The title refers to households but elsewhere there is reference to people and one in five is qualified as 21 and 22% are mentioned in different places.

Unfortunately, my first sentence is not up to standard either. Hopefully the meaning is obvious. Sorry.

wev says:
7 June 2013

Patrick, can you or another Which staff member please reply to what I asked in the “MPs, pick our Bill to tackle nuisance calls and texts” conversation? It’s related to the microsoft scam because of the trade in personal information. When companies get personal information, they use it for cold calling and sell it on to everyone else, including scammers.

Which? needs to include this as well as market research calls when it asks MPs to make a bill on nuisance calls.

Patrick, there are still Which? members out there who are unaware of this scam. I think Which? should send out a ‘warning notice’ of this scam and of email scams, to all it’s members.

Hi Wev, ‘consent’ and selling of personal data is one of the things we want to be looked at.

We’ve just emailed all Which? members with this Microsoft story Figgerty 🙂 Great minds?

wev says:
7 June 2013

Does that include looking at local councils selling the public electoral register, and the DVLA selling motorist details?

great minds and fools!

Haven’t seen the email yet but I’m sure it will turn up by the end of the day.

I have also sent an email to the CEO of Talk Talk asking her to send out a notice warning of the Microsoft scam and of the many phishing emails we all receive on a regular basis. With the phishing emails, customers should be warned not to use the link within the message to open any account. I think all ISP’s have a duty to warn their customers.

For a week, I am going to forward the phishing emails to the organisations targeted. I started today with Natwest and received a reply. I just guessed at the address, phishing@natwest.com, so was pleased to know it got through.

Graham King says:
8 June 2013

You should also report it to phishing@cityoflondon.police.uk as it allows the cyber crime unit build up evidence

Patrick, this email has still not been received. Are you sure it has been sent out?

I can second that. I’ve not received anything. Well, that was obvious anyway.

I was previously reporting the bank phishing emails to: reports@banksafeonline.org.uk and after a short time was told there was no longer a need to do so. I shall forward all phishing emails to phishing@cityoflondon.police.uk, as well as to each organisation, but for the next week only. I have seen nothing to suggest that reporting these emails leads to prosecutions.

Peter (Parra) Montgomery says:
9 June 2013

I had been attempting to transfer funds to a mob in India called PC HELP CARE, who had fixed up the soft ware on my computer and provided me with a lifetime guarantee to keep the computer free of malware viruses.
I was talking with Andy Smith ID AS 0311 (phone 03 901058488) who talked me through everything I needed to do.
I was instructed to set up a WESTERN UNION account to transfer $600 to the Company based in India.
All attempts to transfer were denied by WESTERN UNION and when I rang them (at the request of “Andy Smith” I was told it had been declined for security reasons.
I requested Andy to send me more information –
and I received this email —–
WELCOME TO PC HELP CARE

About Us

PC Help Care is an online technical support system & the people & technology have been battle-tested in many corporate for many years. Here in ” PC Help Care ” we guarantee that you will be satisfied with the service we offer. ” PC Help Care ” is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There always live technicians available to your service.

We’ve devised unique plans to help PC users across the world who have problems in the PC, Spyware, Adware, Printer etc and have tried different utilities to solve the problems. This is a unique kind of solution which is quite cost-effective and helps to make efficient use of resources which ultimately help improve the productivity.

Our goal is to support corporate as well as individual people who need help to fix any computer problem they encounter. Our friendly and affordable service is available to everyone by subscription. As complex and capricious as our computers have become, getting the expert help you need, no matter where you are or what time it is.” PC Help Care “ has the answer for you, and your computer.

Why PC Help Care ?

· Fast Solutions at Unbeaten Prices.

· Team of Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers (MCSE) technicians.

· Easy3-Step Remote Tech Support Model
1) Select a plan 2) Connect to us 3) Get it Resolved

· Higher Resolution Rate up to 95%

· Free Access to Free Knowledge Base.

· Free Branded Must-have PC Utilities from Top Software Vendors

· Personalized Tech Support

· Fast Access via Phone and Chat

· Live24*7 Anywhere, Anytime Tech Support

· Wide-Ranging Support Covering several types of PC problems

HOME SUPPORT PLAN

Premier Cover

$600.00

Includes:

Unlimited Support on all computers.
Free* support or advice by email or telephone.
Software Support
Diagnose & repair
Printer Support
Email Support
PC Optimization
Browser & MS office support
Unlimited IPod / Mp3 Player / Webcam – Support
Any Network Troubleshooting & Repair
Updating the Operating System Windows 7or 8 (Depending on the system configuration)
Office 2010 or 2007 (Depending on the system configuration)
Latest Software updates with free Antivirus( depending on the system configuration).

He is going to ring me TOMORROW….What should I do when he phones…,

Graham King says:
9 June 2013

Tell him you’ve changed your mind sounds like a scam to me.

Peter (Parra) Montgomery says:
9 June 2013

Thanks Graham King…I will do just that. He told me he was ringing from Melbourne..but I knew he wasn’t….:lol: B******s…BUT he definitely had me in….AND I am someone who shakes his head when I hear people being ‘suckered’ into Nigerian and other scams. As I said B******S…

Do what I have done and referred callers to discussions of the scam on Which? Conversation.

Graham says:
9 June 2013

Hey, I’ll come and repair it for that. Seriously though you can buy a new computer for less than that amount. Keep your money in your pocket till you find a good local person, personal recommendation is the best bet.

Peter (Parra) Montgomery says:
9 June 2013