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.