/ Technology

Scam watch: terrified by abusive cold call

We were contacted when a person was left shaken by an attempted number-spoofing scam. The ordeal didn’t end with the abusive call – here’s what happened.

A cold calling victim told us they received a call from someone purporting to be from Microsoft. We suspect that they wanted remote access to their computer and bank accounts.

The caller made sexually abusive remarks and then correctly recited the victim’s home address.

Terrified, they put the phone down, but the ordeal wasn’t over.

The victim was then deluged with calls from different UK landline numbers, which they were too scared to answer. Eventually they stopped, but later that evening a call was received from a different man.

He said he’d received the same scam ‘Microsoft’ call, but it appeared to have come from the victim’s own number, and he was simply returning the call!

Another case of number-spoofing

This was a ‘number-spoofing’ scam, where a fraudster’s call displays under a fake number to avoid being traced.

In this case, the fraudster spoofed the number in turn to dupe others. When the police were contacted, they advised the victim to contact their landline provider, BT.

BT said it couldn’t do anything except change the member’s number, which was not wanted. BT told us that it proactively warns its customers about scams, adding:

“We’ll never call a customer to ask for remote access to their computer or ask for personal information, including bank details, unexpectedly, and we’ll never call from an ‘unknown’ number.’ It advises customers never to share their BT account number and to shred paper bills”

The ‘Microsoft’ phone scam is also known to us. Here we explain how it works, how you can avoid it, and what to do if you believe you have been scammed.

Our full guide on phone scams is also full of valuable information on how you can indentify these cold calls and report them.

Have you been on the end of an abusive scam call? Where did the fraudsters say they were calling from?

Comments

When I had a landline, whenever I received calls from the Indian fake Microsoft employees, I pretended to be a novice PC user and deliberately made myself sound like a technophobe and rather stupid. I followed their instructions and read out any generic information from my PC (e.g. standard logs from Event Viewer). Every few minutes, I manually made my mobile phone ring, and asked them to hold while I take the call. I muted the scammer while I did this. I let them hold for 5 or 10 minutes, and whenever they asked whether I was still there, I unmuted them and told them that I was. While they were on hold, I got on with other things so they didn’t waste my own time. When they asked me to go to a remote access provider such as LogMeIn or GoToMyPC with an access code, I put them on hold again (with another fake incoming call on my mobile) and I phoned the support department of the remote access provider. I explained that I’m an experienced IT professional on the receiving end of a scam and I gave them the scammer’s access code so they could block his account; they were very grateful. I then went back to the scammer and told him that his code didn’t work. He then tried another remote access provider and we repeated the whole process again, wasting more of his time and blocking more of his accounts. When I’d had enough, I told them that my internet connection no longer worked and they must have broken it. Eventually they got bored, particularly after I put them on hold for longer and longer, and then they always hung up. One even threatened me with legal action for wasting 90 minutes of his valuable time. This practice used up little of my time, as I was getting on with other things while I put them “on hold”, but it had two advantages of first wasting their time and second reducing the number of victims whom they could target.

I no longer have a landline and therefore no longer receive such calls. I recommend getting rid of landlines, as you can use Skype or WhatsApp to phone friends and family for free.

Phil says:
11 July 2019

I get more scam calls on my mobile than my landline. When the mobile works that is.

I have had the same mobile number for years and if I discount genuine wrong numbers I have had very few nuisance calls – less than one a year. In contrast, I used to have numerous nuisance calls on the landline – usually several calls a day. I suspect that nuisance calls are more common on landlines, but Phil is not the only one whose mobile has been targeted.

Anyone who is receiving abusive or threatening calls could think about changing their number.

I forgot to say that in the past two years nuisance calls on the landline have dwindled to about one or two a month. Being out during the day does help.

John says:
13 July 2019

NFH has made a brilliant response. i am not a techy person at all. My tactics when these people from “Microsoft” or sometimes “BT” call is to pretend I am very elderly and first I have to go up the stairs to turn on the computer (put phone on mute until they start saying “hello” hello” and then that I am just switching on my computer … mute and another few minutes …. then that the computer is “updating and the screen is blue ….. mute and more time …. then I say it now says “19% complete please do not turn off your computer” ….. mute and more time ….. and then every 4 minutes I tell them another slightly higher % mute and more time while I get on with other things. When I get to 100% I tell them it says “please restart your computer” mute and more time …. then I tell them the computer has frozen. and on it goes.

What I wish was I knew how to do what NFH does and find out their “access codes” so I can report them and how to report them. NFH says “and I phoned the support department of the remote access provider. I explained that I’m an experienced IT professional on the receiving end of a scam and I gave them the scammer’s access code so they could block his account; they were very grateful”

I have learned to recognise scam calls and I get quite a few. There is often a pause before anything happens. Occasionally there is a snatch of music. Sometimes other voices are audible before anyone speaks. Sometimes there is a recorded message. Sometimes someone speaks but never says who they are to begin the phone call. It’s usually “Hi” or “Am I speaking to Mr….” At this point the phone goes back in its holder and it has never rung twice. People who know me say who they are immediately. My advice is never to begin a conversation with someone who doesn’t identify themselves within the first few seconds of a phone call. Never admit that it is you they are speaking to and, if you don’t know who they are hang up before any conversation can begin. If it’s a friend, relative or tradesman they will ring again and you will know immediately who you are talking to. This works for me, though I do get annoyed when focussing on something and the phone rings with one of “those” and I then have to reconnect with what I’ve been doing. There’s a lot more can be done to stop these calls and the malicious ones certainly need stopping. Perhaps a few fines in the right places might prod those in charge of the system to clean it up instead of wringing hands and hoping they will go away. They won’t!

It is worrying that some people have received threatening or abusive calls or even multiple calls from the same person. The nearest was when a caller cursed me for wasting his time after a long dialogue about a supposed computer fault.

I do not give or confirm information over the phone unless I have made the call.

This sounds more like a personal attack rather than the Microsoft scam.

Scam callers have to get results so are unlikely to start with abusive remarks. We hear of them calling back once in retaliation but not continuously.

A search reveals apparently anyone can number-spoof not just scammers. The icing on the cake for a personal attack would be the man supposedly returning the call and causing further distress to the victim.

When is number-spoofing going to be made illegal?

When are unpaid-for numbers going to be prevented from traversing the networks?

My cold calls are usually about some form of money I have over paid, so what I do is tell them “I have never had a mortgage, never had a loan and never had a credit card, but thanks for calling, have a nice day and bye bye”. Then hang up. I have never to date had any recalls. That’s my way of dealing will cold callers and so far has never failed!

A while ago I received a call from India (Microsoft) saying that my computer had a virus and was causing problems, I asked them which computer as I have ten or eleven at home.

Their answer ‘all of them’, I asked how that could be as most had not been switched on for 10 or more years, strangely the call ended shortly afterward.

As for the machines at home, I was before retirement involved in software development and testing.

You could tell them that you have double-glazed windows that are not subject to malware.

Nah wavechange, my windows prevent bugs from getting in 😉

🙂

Elizabeth Gladstone says:
13 July 2019

We had a call recently from someone claiming to be from Ofcom. She said that our internet access would be cut off within 24 hours as interference had been detected on our connections. We were invited to press button 1 or 2 – I did not do this but suspect if I had it might have been rather expensive. At that point I put the phone down, and needless to say we have not lost our internet access. The number which came up on our display was a local one, but followed by some other figures, which makes me think that she had hijacked someone else’s number already.

Well done for not pressing buttons in response.

Scammers are using number spoofing to hide their true numbers, often picking on area codes that have many spare numbers.

It is always worth googling the number for further information.

“We were invited to press button 1 or 2 – I did not do this but suspect if I had it might have been rather expensive.”
Quite right not to press, of course, but it’s a myth that you can be charged by pressing buttons on an incoming call.

Martin, you might like to check out 0800 Reverse, as an example of call charges being made on incoming calls:

0800reverse.co.uk/how-receive-call.html

Whether or not scammers can now operate on that basis, or will be able to do at some future time, is another question.

So far, I’ve not seen any evidence of internet access scammers operating in this way, but I cannot fault cautious folk for being wary of any potential consequences from that hazard.

Appreciate the info Derek, but reading the FAQ –
“When you receive an 0800 Reverse call, we’ll play you a recording of the name of the person who wants to speak to you. You’ll hear this name recording before you’re asked whether you want to accept the call and the charges.”

Obviously, 0800Reverse is a legitimate service that warns you that you will be be charged if you accept a call and then requires you to either press a button or say “yes” to accept the call. So you can avoid the charges by not taking the call.

The hazard here is that, at least in theory, scammers could set up and then use a similar mechanism, where those receiving calls incur charges after pressing a button. In the past on this forum, Duncas Lucas was adamant that this was a serious risk and currently some other posters (inlcuding alfa) hold that view too.

Personally, I’ve yet to see any evidence of scammers operating in that way, so I’ll still press buttons and scam bait them when I can.

If you accept 0800Reverse calls on a PAYG mobile that is out of credit, nothing happens until you put credit on. Then, a series of nasty premium SMS messages appear, until you have either paid off your debt, or until you have no credit left.

Interesting… Derek.
Being ex-BT, I keep my eye on telecom matters, and I’ve yet to hear of any actual scam involving 0800Reverse.

Andrew says:
13 July 2019

What is clear from reports and my experiences, Data Basis’s are being plagiarized,used Illegally. Where is the Data Protection Act now?
Personal ID’s have not been safe since the introduction of electronic devices and requirement to provide/confirm of personal information. This leaves everyone of us open to being impersonated and harassed. BT are incapable of protecting subscribers, suggesting a change of number, is just not good enough.

Chris says:
13 July 2019

My approach is similar to VynorHill’s but block the no. using my own device quickly before putting the ‘phone down. I have received calls from people claiming to be from Microsoft but the most common one is a recorded message supposedly from our ISP warning of an imminent loss of broadband and the need for urgent action. Needless to say we have never lost service after one of these calls.

After continually receiving scam calls, I purchased a ‘call blocking’ phone a couple of months ago, and have not received a nuisance call since. What bliss!

I seldom have scam calls but if I do, I have recently started telling the caller that I have to inform him that the call is being recorded. The phone goes down immediately!

Geraldine Donna REMMINGTON says:
13 July 2019

A new type of scam call I received the other day – a recorded voice telling me there had been a suspicious transaction on my VISA card for £600. Press 1 to connect with agent.
Needless to say I didn’t!

cat says:
13 July 2019

RE Geraldine, I had two messages on my voicemail this week. For some reason the beginning was cut off so I don’t know who they were pretending to be but they said there had been a “Foreign transaction” on my account and I should press1 if i had not made it. I didnt.

To completely eliminate the scam “Microsoft” calls, get rid of all Microsoft products from your computing environment! Apple also suffers from the same problem, so the truly effective measure is to install a modern Linux distribution like Ubuntu or Mint. These are actually easier to use than Windows, are much more stable, very secure, and entirely free!

Installing Linux these days is no more difficult than installing an “app” to a mobile phone!

When you get the inevitable “Microsoft” scam calls, you can play along with them, and tie them up in knots because they won’t be able to abuse your computer – and as long as you don’t tell them what you actually have on your machine, you can waste their time for hours!

Chris, as a fellow Linux user, I applaud your enthusiasm for Linux. However, my personal experience is that any contest between Linux and either Windows or MacOS is not always the walk-over that you claim.

For older PC’s, as would have originally have come with Vista or earlier versions of Windows, I find that Linux is easy to install and is now a better all-round option that either Vista or XP. I still use XP for legacy apps but I don’t use it on the ‘net.

I’ve also found that Linux can work well on older Macs, e.g. those no longer supported by Apple, but you cannot run any of that nice Apple software under Linux.

On newer PC’s, I’ve found it much harder to boot, install and use Linux. Getting the UEFI bios settings just right seems to be a bit hit and miss and then sometimes Linux still doesn’t have the required wifi drivers for all of the latest chipsets. Nonetheless, there are benefits to be gained by installing Linux. For example, my nice cheap HP Stream only has 32GB of non-upgradeable hard disc. A Windows 10 installation on such a machine only leaves about 8GB of user space, but this increases to about 20GB if Windows is replaced by Linux.

Although Linux PC’s cannot catch “infections” in the form of classical x86 executable viruses, they can certainly fall prey to web browser malware add-ons (as indeed can Chromebooks). Once detected, these infestations are straightforward to remove, but I can’t help wondering whether or not a decent Windows or Apple security software would block such items in the first place.

Unfortunately, the majority of consumers PC’s are sold with Windows 10, so that’s most folk will have to work with. For a competitively priced alternative, I find that a Chromebook makes a great “internet appliance” and, not withstanding Google and its data slurping, I think more people should use those instead of Windows PC’s.

Why would getting rid of Microsoft products do anything to reduce scam calls, Chris?

Graham says:
13 July 2019

I had a message left on my answerphone from a debt collection company, they only gave me four letters so i did`nt know who they were, the message was to urgently phone a number , luckily i googled the abbreviated name and found that this firm do this sort of thing all the time and prey on un suspecting people. If anyone gets such a call do not under any circumstances call the number given and just ignore it as it is a scam. I have also had the bogus Microsoft engineer call and the alleged BT one as well, there is another one which comes in text form on mobiles claiming to be from HMRC , it gives you a link to click on to claim your alleged tax refund-it`s a scam, beware.

J B says:
13 July 2019

We used to get loads of calls on our landline but have an answerphone, so told relatives/friends that we wouldn’t be answering our phone and to leave a message. By appearing to be ‘out of house’, after a while the calls have decreased dramatically. When we do get them it depends on my mood as to what I do, sometimes put phone down, delay them for a while, accuse them of trying to scam and tell them they should be ashamed or – on a bad day – shout at them!

MiddleEngland59 says:
13 July 2019

In the last few weeks I’ve had several calls playing an automated script on the theme of “we’ve detected illegal activity on your phone line and internet connection and so your line will be disconnected today – stay on the line to speak to one of our operators”. Unsurprisingly, my phone hasn’t been disconnected, even though I didn’t wait to speak to anybody.

These calls have come from (seemingly) different caller-IDs, the first couple showing up with originating numbers in Northern Ireland, and then later elsewhere. Subsequently, one of the calls displayed its originating number as being that of my own phone line!

Although I have a call-blocking device, it may well be “fighting a losing battle” to try to block them if they use a different number every time, However, it seems pretty clear that one number from which I will never receive a genuine incoming call is my own number, so I’ve now added it into my list of blocked numbers.

Mrs Rachel Henderson says:
13 July 2019

Thanks for all that; I got the ‘Visa £600 transaction’ call for the first time a few days ago, so it’s reassuring to know that it’s just a variation on the Microsoft rubbish. OH sometimes likes to waste their time but I think if what you say is not on their script they don’t understand. I did once shout at a woman who rang from “BT”, so-called, and told her she should be ashamed to steal from older people. Did no good, of course, but I felt better!

SteveS says:
13 July 2019

I usually tell them my line is being monitored and the police will be on their way then I hang up.Seems to have worked for some time but recently had a spate starting with the BT internet one ( I do not have BT internet) but as it was automated voice the above shouted down the phone may not have been heard.Also had a load of calls from non existent landline numbers that I have not picked up or cut off too quickly for answer machine,Stopped now for last couple of weeks so here’s hoping..

I have got a callblocker which indicates how many calls have been blocked and can’t call again. I am up to 480 and it does give me a sense of satisfaction to know that although they have called me they won’t do it again.

We never get scam calls & haven’t for several years. Reason? Use of our answerphone.
I set it to answer after just two rings. We have caller display (now free to everyone) & my wife has the phone on a shelf alongside her armchair. When the phone rings she looks at the screen & picks up if a name comes up, meaning it’s in the phone address book. If a number comes up, or “Number withheld” , “International call”, etc., she lets the call go to the answerphone. Usually, no message is left, meaning it was a scam attempt. If it is a genuine call & she hears a message being left, she can then pick up & take the call.
Simple, cheap & in our experience very effective.

You are getting scam calls, you’re just not answering them. You are probably also receiving nuisance calls that are not scams. You might not be answering such calls but they are still interrupting you and causing you to check the caller display. In my experience not answering calls does not stop them coming so we need a system that will intercept them at the point of origin and deny the traffic from entering the network.

When we get home we often find that the answerphone is pipping. We then have to waste time going through the message log seeing who is trying to contact us. Suppressing scam and nuisance calls is not the complete answer to the problem.

We are not getting scam or nuisance calls very often, as I would say we do not get more than one or two a week. It is not much effort for my wife (who is disabled BTW) to glance at the phone when it rings & as it only rings twice it is not too much of a disturbance to me or our son. It certainly works for us, I wonder if we are on some sort of list of “numbers not to bother ringing?”.
I have heard that scammers have “suckers lists” of numbers to call which they may get a result from, maybe the reverse is also true?