/ 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.

Steve Wilson says:
14 August 2015

Been getting these same calls just recently sometimes as many as five a day. I am very computer literate and I fix all my friends and colleagues computers when they have problems, I even build computers, so I don’t need someone to fix mine if I have a problem with it. I told these people the same thing and told them to stop calling me and they said that they wouldn’t do that until they had fixed my computer. So my phone now goes straight to answerphone with a fancy message informing these people that they are not welcome. Anyone who knows me or is family etc. will call my mobile anyway.

Ruth Scott says:
17 August 2015

I’ve just had 6 scam Windows calls in 5 days telling me that my computer is sending them messages. I have remained polite and told them I have an Apple mac (which is true) and that I know their call is a scam. The latest caller then said,”You are a silly woman.” I asked her to repeat what she’d just said and she did. I have reported this using the Which? tool.

I keep on getting the same idiots always Indian always the same John, Colin, or June, or some other English sounding name. And they state the same things, you put the phone down they ring you back and then the threats come, we know who you are where you live and you will get a visit.

They even tell you your name your phone number which is obvious because they have just phoned you and with your phone number they can find out for $10 or £5 your name your house number and where you live.

That is the internet world for you, when they phone up now they say Sir Your windows are causing issues with Virus, and I tell them hardly they are new double glazed and clean, no sir your Microsoft window sir. I will say no they are not Microsoft these are double Decker windows , and then they say are you stupid.

Then after twenty minutes of this they put the phone down on me, at least when they are talking to me they are not scamming some poor soul.

But if you want to get rid of them you just say I do not use windows i use a different system and the phone will go dead faster then lightening.

They are annoying but now the threats are getting serious.

Just had a call from someone pretending to be from Microsoft who had spotted I had some issues with my Windows PC that needed sorting out. I knew immediately it was a scam but strung him along for a while to waste his time. Never let him near my PC of course. The number that called was 0015735550192.

John I have just revived a call from microsoft thought it was scam so asked for information his name John mackenze working in calofornia with a Indian accent .I asked what he new about my computer and the so called virus . he then gave me a 32 digit code relating to my computer asked me to turn on my computer said he was from windows .I said call back later I am off to work. He is calling back around 5pm when he does I will waste his time and claw back some money for BT via international calls .why can’t windows send out a warning on the national news radio included. If we are going to contact you we will only do this via Email only.

I had a call yesterday he was not taking no for an answer, i said my children can sort out any problems that i have with my computer and that i know he’s a scammer , and he’s after my money and that he won’t get any because i have no money . He said i have bad children because they don’t look after me because i have no money what? And that if i don’t go to my computer i am breaking the law by letting the hackers get into my computer what? Anyway i just put the phone down he rung back but i put it down again im not going to answer it again. But why should you not be able to answer your phone in your own house its not right,

Gaby says:
4 March 2016

I was very worried by the calls . I switched off my wiwif and laptop for a few days . Each time I switch on wifi I get called by a ‘ Microsoft senior technician’ – sounds liker an Indian call centre – they reported that there was unusual disturbance on the server and that they needed to fit it — when I hang up they keep calling until I pull the phone line out. It is a real nuisance for me , I think they have somehow hacked into Virgin media and got my phone number . They are real nuisances and the internet server providers should do something about this.

Take note of their number and do not answer the phone to that number ever again Simple Caller display might cost you money but it stops you answering numbers that you know are scams I never answer calls from numbers that are not on my calls list so do not get these sort of calls Answering unknown calls today always seems to be a big mistake You must change your habit of answering every call

I’ve had 9 calls in 4 days from what sounds like the same gentleman called Kevin ( in India ? ) who informed me that my computer had a serious virus problem. I told him I had a MacBookPro and it didn’t run windows. I asked him where he was calling from and he said London. I asked him what the weather was like there today and he replied that it was snowing heavily !!
Undeterred , he continued telling me he was correct about my computer.
I told him that I had the letters MCSE after my name ( I haven’t ! ) which means Microsoft Certified Service Engineer. I had to tell him what it meant. He hung up. No calls for 8 days now. Success ?? Maybe – time will tell.

Keep getting calls from NO CALLER ID and people with Indi.an or Pakistani accents who say they are calling from Windows Technical Support. They say my computer reported to them that there were problems and tell me a specific time that this transpired. They ask if I used my computer at this time, which I did not. They explain that some others have access to my IPS address and have been using my laptop IPS causing viruses that they need to remove from my computer. I accused them of being scammers, which they deny and insist they are hired by Microsoft to provide this service. Otherwise, how else would they know my computer’s license number? They have me type the windows button and r at the same time to go to type assoc next to cmd to pull up my computer’s license number. They then confirm they know my license number. How else could they know this, they ask, if they were scammers? No, they are not selling anything, have they asked me for any money? Not yet… but I am still doubtful. In fact, I am Googling at the same time to see if anyone else has had the same experience before I do anything. They get agitated as I string them along…they threaten to blacklist me from all future assistance with this computer and future computers since they have my information. They are indignant about being legit and I continue to question their credentials. This frustrates them. My dog is post op and needed my assistance, so I needed to go. The caller at this time is just beyond ready to give up on me but still has not, and I explain I need to go attend to my dog. He says, “Your computer is more important than your dog.” That is the red flag that sealed the deal of his scammer status and I hung up on him. My phone rang 4 times after that from the same number, 4 different callers. They must be slow….

This type of PC Technical Support scam makes it hard for honest UK business to earn a living!!!!

John TURPIN says:
13 February 2017

Approximately 2.15pm Mon 13. Feb 2017 :- Received phone call ( private caller – number withheld ). A man on the other end ( Indian accent ) said that he had received a report that I was having problems with my computer and that it had a virus. He said there was no need to worry – that he was from Microsoft and was calling me so as to fix the problem. Immediately he said this, I knew it was a ‘SCAM’, but let him carry on as I REALLY LOVE WINDING THESE SCAMMERS UP and give them a load of bunkum in reply to their questions.

I wish I had tape recorded the conversation, as it would have been somewhat hilarious if I could have played the tape back to friends. I am always alert to such scammers calling, and allow them to waste their time and money in having them believe that I have fallen for the scam. I let them clock up the minutes and then cut them off.

Of course, these SCAMMERS which I also refer to as ‘SEWER RATS’ are at this regularly – day in – day out. On the off chance, they will target the vulnerable…the sick, elderly, disabled, some of whom will fall for it. They are after one thing , i.e., ‘YOUR MONEY – YOUR BANK DETAILS, and the satisfaction of DESTROYING YOUR COMPUTER.

NEVER, EVER – EVER do what they ask you to do, such as follow their instructions on an open computer, and NEVER EVER – EVER REVEAL YOUR BANK DETAILS, however convincing they may seem to you. YOU CAN BE GUARANTEED IT IS A SCAM ! These callers are part of a group living underground of a SEWER FARM, and are referred to as SEWER RATS !

Hello, just an update for everyone on the latest news on computer support scams. Four people have been arrested in England on suspicion of fraud 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 – however, the figure is expected to be higher as many incidents go unreported.

Computer firms do not make unsolicited phone calls to help you fix your computer. Fraudsters make these phone calls to try to steal from you and damage your computer with malware. So you should treat all unsolicited phone calls with scepticism and don’t give out any personal information.

Must admit these scams are old hat now. I have had so called calls from Microsoft, Talktalk, BT, even on behalf of Widows Operating Systems, always they are from the security department and they are receiving information that your computer or router is playing up, is infected or someone else in the vicinity of you home is using your broadband connection. I even pretended to follow one operator through his sales pitch and they ask you to open your computer press this key, then that key or even to put a web address into your computer. If you tell you are a waste of time scammer they put the phone down on you quite abruptly. I use to get 3 or 4 calls a day but they are now getting less and less. One final brilliant idea I found is to engage these scammers in conversation then blow a whistle down the phone as hard as you can , seems to work a treat.

Pat Trezise says:
2 July 2017

I was also contacted by Indian man demanding cash to fix my computer. When I said I was not at liberty to spend £300 he froze my screen and I c!would not even turn it off.
I have recently been trying to contact Microsoft about another issue recently. Does anyone know the best way to have dialogue with them? My computer was taken over for two hours, I think it was Microsoft! But how do I k ow!!!

It was almost certainly not Microsoft, Pat. Unfortunately you were the victim of a scammer. If you have got your computer up and running again you must change all your log-in details and passwords. You will also need to ‘disinfect’ your computer of any viruses or malware that could have been installed. I hope you have checked your bank accounts and any store or on-line shopping accounts for unauthorised transactions.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Tell them that you need THEIR bank details and password so you can pay them before you can let them access your computer. It gets them very confused.

I love ‘ambulance chasers’ too. I managed to keep one talking for 20 minutes about the accident that I had apparently had. When he eventually asked why I had not made a claim I told him that it was a fatal accident and I had died at the scene, he thanked me politely then hung up.

I know this topic has been discussed pretty well to death, but I’ve just had a call purporting to be from my local STD code which turned out to be an Indian call centre offering Microsoft support. Had a few minutes cheery banter with them, but nevertheless I was surprised they can spoof a local number. Normally they come through as International or some weird STD code and I just ignore them. Anyone else seen this?

WHY o WHY do these people keep answering and listening then complain on Which convo. Have they no sense at all Do as I do because I never get these kind of calls from anyone at all Fools all about everywhere it seems

Just had the same call. I was told my computer was being used as a host for hackers so they were going to shut down my Microsoft account which would corrupt all my data. I asked for their name and the number to call back on. I said I was going to check the information out and if it all checked out as being a Microsoft number I would ring them back. After checking I found out about the scam. The number I was given to call back on was 0118 3280663. He said he was called Roger Brown and his ID number was M7621. Please can Microsoft do something about this. I am not easily taken in but this would frighten many people into doing what they say.

Glad you checked this out and didn’t fall for it Debbie.

Please never be tempted to call these scammers back. You could be charged for a foreign premium rate number and get an unpleasant surprise on your phone bill. A search of your number uncovers nothing so is probably fake. Next time the ‘manager’ might get put on the line to prove the call is ‘genuine’. Just don’t believe them.

I tell them I don’t have a computer so they give up as there is no way they can tell.

Fed Up says:
27 February 2018

I’ve never been bothered by these sh*ts until today and they keep calling every hour and then as soon as I try and speak they hang up! 1471 reveals they are calling from abroad. All have Indian accents. It’s getting really annoying!
Anyway to block numbers from abroad? Because call is from abroad 1471 can’t give a number. arrghhh

A caller display will let you know the number or withheld or just what you then just ignore those calls do not lift the phone if i do get these calls i would not know as I do not answer any calls from unknown numbers only from those on my calls list my phone is my servant i am not it’s slave like many people seem to be The phone rings they always answer and listen carefully to every word no wonder many fall for scams