/ Technology

Scam watch: computer scammers scared me into paying £500

Someone calls you out of the blue claiming to be a security expert offering to fix your computer. It’s a scam preying on internet security fears – and one of you faced a particularly nasty version that cost you £500.

We’ve written before on Convo about bogus Microsoft support scammers claiming to solve your ‘computer problems’, but this time, the caller claimed our reader’s computer was being used for criminal purposes.

Richard told us: I was recently called by a company that claimed to be working with Microsoft. The caller told me my computers were carrying a Trojan virus and being used for illegal activity.

They said that I was liable to prosecution if I was aware that my computers were being misused, and that the PCs would be closed down if they couldn’t remove the virus immediately. I reluctantly allowed the caller to remote access my computer.

They said they could remove the problem for a fee of £499.99 and that this would cover me if other problems arose with a computer in my possession in future. I transferred the funds from my bank into their account.

A month later, they called to tell me that my Windows licence had expired and again asked for remote access. I suspected a scam and told them to stop bothering me. My concern is now what data they’ve got from my PC.

Internet security scam: how to protect yourself

We say: If anyone calls and tells you they’re a computer security expert, hang up the phone.

This is a common scam preying on people’s internet security fears and no legitimate tech company does it. These scammers often try to con you into paying an extortionate amount for security software, which may not work and could in fact be malicious.

Many will also try to gain remote access to your PC, where they could potentially infect your computer with malware or retrieve sensitive personal details. If you do suffer this scam:

  • Change usernames and passwords, remove any files downloaded as a result of their calls.
  • Run a virus check.
  • Tell the police, Action Fraud and your bank.
  • Also have a look at our guide to the Microsoft scam and how to go about getting back any money you have may lost.

Thousands targeted by scammers

The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau estimates that between June 2014 and November 2014 there were more 12,000 reports of cases such as this – where you’re contacted by phone and told there’s a problem with your computer that can be fixed for free.

Callers claim to be from a variety of organisations such as Microsoft, TalkTalk and BT, as well as more generic-sounding organisations such as the ‘Windows Technical Department’.

Have you been cold called by scammers and if so, what was your experience? Do you have a tactic for getting rid of them?

Comments
Member

When I had a fixed line telephone, 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.

Member

I let them go through their spiel, ask a few silly questions, then say wow, that is really amazing since I don’t own a computer.

Member

lol I must do that.

Member
Will says:
1 June 2015

I ask the caller to “Can you please hang on a sec?” Then I lay the receiver down on my desk and carry on with whatever I was doing until they finally realise I’m not coming back and ring off. They never ring me again.

Member

I always say “how do you know?” which they ignore, then keep interrupting them “Yeah, but I want to know exactly how you discovered I had a computer with a virus on it”. “Where did you get your information from?”

They never give you any answers of course but it does ruffle them a bit.

Member

Here’s one way to deal with unsolicited calls…

https://youtu.be/y_hgPdB8ll4

Member
Larry Freedman says:
25 November 2016

Trouble is that these people are very clever and can be very convincing. Yesterday I bought a new Surface Pro 4. Security is never far from my mind so at the same time I purchased a McAfee security package too. I must be daft because I bought these items from a company I had long since promised myself I would never deal with again! Their service is appalling and I have had nothing but trouble with them in the past but that is a different issue and down to my poor judgement. My concern here is security. I had installed Office and then tried to install my McAfee security. I followed the instructions to log onto mcafee.com/activate and proceeded to put in the 25 digit code. Everything looked as it should so I hit the submit button. Within 5 seconds I had someone on the phone purporting to be from McAfee. I don’t know how this is possible and I have since been told it was coincidental! REALLY?! I have never had a call like that before! Incidentally, I have since been told by the company that I made these purchases from that all of this was my own fault and that I had clearly logged onto the wrong site. I followed their instructions to the letter!!! Anyway, this guy from ‘McAfee’ then proceeded to tell me how my IP security had been compromised and that my new computer, not two hours out of the box, had already been hacked and was already infected with all kinds of viruses, malware and who knows what?! I am not stupid but this guy was very convincing and I idiotically allowed him access to my machine. Having convinced me that I was about to face computer armageddon he then started to tell me how he could sort it all out for me, for a small price, of course!!! At that point I realised this was a scam and immediately got hold of Microsoft. I hadn’t given him any payment details and there was nothing on the computer which has since been completely reset and is free from any kind of viruses and whatever. I raise this because I just want to highlight how easy it is to fall prey to these guys. I am no doddery old fool but I was sucked in nonetheless! I think the point is that one can never afford to get complacent about security. These villains are very clever and would not do what they do if it weren’t worth their while.

Member

I got an “I’m from Microsoft” call yesterday, which fortunately I knew was bogus.

Dialling 1471 afterwards, I found that the call, although with a strong South Asian accent, came from (or through) a Middlesborough number.

Thinking this might be useful to somebody, I went to the Action Fraud website to report this. When I reached the end of the relevant questionnaire, it was evident that they were not interested in knowing the number the call came from, just collecting statistical trends.

I googled the fraudster’s number to find numerous complaints about it, so it has evidently been active for some time.

I find this disappointing. Surely if the call is coming from/through a BT number, the origin can be tracked back and the UK and local overseas police forces could collaborate to shut the fraudster down.

The ICO is seemingly much better. Their report form asks for the phone numbers making and receiving the call, the date, time, content of the call, etc. They claim to chase up offenders. This may well happen as I notice the weekly automated call I get about a non-existent PPI policy comes from a different number every few weeks, although the voice and message are identical.

Member

The number from which the call appeared from is no indication of the physical location from which the call was made. It is possible to falsify one’s caller ID without the call passing through the country or area in which the apparent caller ID is located.

Proof of this is that I use a VoIP service for my outgoing calls and the provider allows me to fake my caller ID, but only to numbers over which I have control. I fake my caller ID to be my own mobile number. Therefore anyone I call sees my mobile number, even though I’m not calling from my mobile. It’s worrying how many companies pre-authenticate my identity on this basis when I phone them. Although I fake my caller ID in an honest way, it can equally be faked in a dishonest way.

Member

Anyone notice a drop in nuisance calls from call centres and a big increase in recorded message nuisance calls?

Most of my nuisance calls are recorded messages from withheld numbers these days.

Member

Yes, that’s my experience too. In fact the number of repetitive calls has increased recently. Until a few months ago we received just one or two calls a week but now there can be two or three a day, sometimes well into the evening, at weekends and on bank holidays. I let the answering machine take all calls but it’s still a nuisance because I have to waste time checking them and deleting them and once it’s taken a message the machine won’t stop its intermittent pipping until I’ve cleared it!.

Member

I’m getting less than one call a day, on average. At its peak I was receiving several calls every weekday, occasionally ten calls in a day. I have rarely received calls over the weekend, even when the problem was worst.

Member

They usually call when I’m busy: then I say I use Linux and hang up. If I have time to have some fun, I might clack a few keys when prompted (even if the computer is not switched on). They often then ask what I see on the screen. I laugh and say “hotindianchicks.com – cor, she’s got a big pair!” – which usually gets them agitated. Other times I play real stupid just to waste their time.

Member

I get these tiresome calls every day. I wait for them to speak and as soon as I recognise the voice (yes it’s that frequent/bad) or they say they’re calling from ‘blah blah security’, I sigh heavily and put the phone down, but not disconnecting, and continue what I was doing or go and make a cup of tea, until I see they’ve disconnected. It doesn’t stop them phoning, but my not having an irate ‘leave me in peace’ conversation is less stressful for me. I see no need to be polite to a scammer. I also do this for those irritating PPI calls, if I make the mistake of answering. I refuse to answer ‘witheld’ numbers.

Member

As well as my time-wasting tactic above, I find it can be a great way to vent one’s anger at these nuisance callers by swearing at them as rudely as possible. These people are criminals; they are not “just doing their job” and they deserve to be sworn at. I find that being extremely rude prevents further calls. They might even put me on to a “do not call” blacklist, as the number of calls reduced sharply after I started doing this.

Now that I don’t have a landline any more, I don’t receive nuisance calls. However, as calls to mobiles become cheaper and cheaper, I suspect that they might start phoning mobile numbers soon.

Member
Daniel Drake says:
3 June 2015

Yes, I can see why you would do this, I am often tempted myself, but I would have to advise against it. It is actually illegal to use obscene language over the phone and swearing could be considered to be in this category. There are some excellent other suggestions on this web page, which are safer.

Of course it is unlikely that scammers would complain, but you never know.

Member
RGradeless says:
30 May 2015

I love getting these calls. My wife despairs at my enthusiasm. My aim is to beat my current best time of 40 minutes before they rumble to my time-wasting. See YouTube (enter ‘youtube windows scammer’ into Google) for the masters at stringing out the conversation.

Of course I never download any software but pretend I do. I mishear instructions, miskey input and ask simplistic questions. Should I switch the computer on? Where is the enter key? Is it w-w-w-w-d-o-t? Great fun!

Member
Chris G says:
30 May 2015

Yes wasting these criminals’ time is a good strategy. It stops them calling others who might be more vulnerable to this kind of fraud. I do not have Windows, so I let them speil if I have time and ask them stupid questions. At the end when they have exhausted their ploys and told me definitely they have identified my windows computer as the problem ( though they don’t have my IP address thankfully) I tell them I don’t have Windows and they are criminals and liars. It doesn’t entirely stop the calls though.

I will now develop my strategy further after reading N’s post. Very useful set of tricks.

A possibly related problem is the fake social or household surveys fron India which I suspect are designed to gather enough information to hack computer accounts,judging by the questions they ask.

Member

I very very rarely answer numbers unknown to me and never withheld or international unavailable calls all people who need to contact me appear as names on my phone

Member

The only reason that the facility to withhold one’s number exists is because there were days before caller ID when the caller’s number never appeared. Callers, being already accustomed to anonymity, demanded optional anonymity after caller ID was introduced. If telephones had always had caller ID from the time they were invented, then the ability to withhold one’s number would never have been introduced.

Look for example at e-mail. Nobody would ever have tolerated e-mails where the sender’s e-mail address was “withheld”. Of course it is even easier to spoof an outgoing e-mail address than to spoof outgoing caller ID, but that’s not my point.

Member

Many organisations withhold their numbers and I would miss a fair number of important calls if I decided not to answer when no number is shown. Bishbut may miss calls from the doctor or an outpatient department, for example. There are plausible reasons for not wanting people to call back on the number that called them but I see no reason for not giving a switchboard number.

I do not understand why callers don’t leave messages if they know their number is withheld.

Member

Wavechange, you are right that many organisations withhold their numbers, but I would argue that most do so unnecessarily. As you say, they could at least give a switchboard number.

The reason that callers don’t leave messages is because they often want to be sure that the message can be heard only by the intended recipient. When they speak to you, they will usually establish that they are speaking to the correct person before divulging anything confidential. They can’t do this when leaving a message.

Member

I think the confidentiality reason is also used unnecessarily. In many cases a request to ring the doctors’ surgery would be appropriate.

Member

One reason many large organisations come up ‘number withheld’ is simply that their private exchanges can’t do it, especially if their systems are knocking on a bit. The facility to display your extension number externally has only just been enabled where I work, and it’s a relatively modern VoIP system.

Member

It seems to me that, if you are genuinely anxious or worried about internet security, then a very good risk reduction measure is to use something other than a PC running Windows as your primary means of accessing the internet.

Member
Eddie Strong says:
31 May 2015

I don”t have an answering machine on the landline, don”t want the bother of having to listen to endless calls after having been away for anytime. However each time the phone interrupts our lives, I always answer ” This is futtocks folly home for the bewildered ” 9 out of 10 times the caller ends the call without even speaking. On one occasion the male caller just said “Oh b…ocks” and banged his phone down. Oh the fun I have.

Member

I don’t have voicemail on my mobile either. Voicemail is a very inefficient form of communication. If someone wants to speak to me, they can try again.

Member

I don’t think I would have many friends left if I adopted that approach. 🙁

Member

Wavechange, I find that most people avoid voice communication now in the first instance. Communication by text (iMessage, WhatsApp, Viber, Skype and sometimes even old-fashioned SMS) has taken over. When it’s time for a voice conversation, it will be agreed beforehand. The days of receiving a sudden phone call from a friend out of the blue (often at an inconvenient time) seem to be over.

Member

So far, I have had nine phone conversations with six people today and there are a few more to come. Two were quite involved discussions. There’s no reason why we should communicate in the same way.

Member
Mike says:
2 June 2015

At it’s worst I used to get up to three of these nuisance calls per day. That was until probably eight or so years ago when I bought a call screening machine (I presume I am not allowed to give the make) for about £100. Since then I haven’t received one single nuisance call. If I choose to do so I can link the machine to the companies web site and see the time, date, phone number etc. of every call including those that it blocks. It also incorporates an answering machine. It is the best money I have ever spent and I simply fail to understand all those people who suffer this problem when the cure is there for the taking.

Member
houndog says:
2 June 2015

Am I right in thinking that these days BT charges for their voicemail service on 1581 ?

As far as I know Talk Talk doesn’t ?

Member
Janet says:
5 June 2015

There is not a week that goes by without speaking to an Internet Security Company that wants to warn me of my peril and danger. I politely explain that I am not interested and ask if they would take me from their call list. Each time I have experienced the caller being verbally abusive in their response. Today the caller was sexually verbally abusive, telling me they know where I live. I am finding the whole aspect of their behaviour upsetting and I am irritated that it seems no one is able to stop this. You may be wondering why I answer the phone – My daughter works from overseas and usually calls from a withheld number. I have tried not to answer the phone, but I have received a text message to ask if everything is ok.

Member

My sister was told that there was £15000 waiting for her in an overseas bank account but she would have to send £ 5000 to get it released. She thanked the caller very much for letting her know but suggested it might simplify things if they just sent her the £10000 balance. The phone was immediately put down at the other end.

Member

We get regular “Windows Virus” calls. Enjoy those as we only have Apple computers ! My wife had fun wasting a lot of their time switching on her computer and waiting for it to start up. Then there was the confusion as the instructions (for a Windows PC) did not match or work with those on our Mac. She dragged it out for as long as possible. In the end they gave up. As I say we had a laugh at their expense, but you cannot do that every time.

Many calls are automated and not answered by the caller. Accident Claims, PPI and “surveys” are common. “Green Deal” calls are the latest nuisance.

Overall, if I have to stop work down the garden to answer any unsolicited call, I get furious. I have been known to adopt the swearing method when the disturbance is particularly annoying, but in general I just now hang up after saying little or nothing.

Frankly, nuisance calls, scam emails and dodgy traders are making everyone’s lives a misery. Life should be fun – not a continuous war of survival.

Member

Here’s one way to deal with unsolicited calls…

https://youtu.be/y_hgPdB8ll4

Member
Bob Hulley says:
25 June 2015

I am now getting these calls with increasing frequency – almost daily in
fact. Note that I am registered with TPS. It is always an Indian
voice, usually with a noisy call centre background. They tell me that
they are looking at my PC and have identified security problems. The
phone number, if shown, is often easily identified as one of the many
known Indian based Windows scams. Just put the number into Google and
see what comes up.

If I am busy, I slam the phone down. Full stop.

If they call again, asking why I put the phone down (it has happened!),
or if I have some time to spare, I will ask them to “prove” that they
are genuine by telling me what version (I don’t say of what) I use, and
what the serial number is. Anyone who genuinely has real remote access
to your Windows desktop could easily do this. They will guess Windows 7
or 8. When I say this is wrong they will either give up at this point
and ring off, or will refuse to answer citing “security reasons”.

After I have strung them along for a bit, and if they persist and refuse
to ring off, I point out that I actually have a Linux system, and that
they are therefore barefaced liars. Sometimes they get quite cross
before ringing off. I award myself a “gold medal” when they accuse me
of wasting their time.

If this sounds just a bit sad, remember that their business model
depends on making as many calls as possible in the day, so as to catch
the comparatively few people who will fall for the scam. By keeping
them stuck on one call for as long as possible you are costing them
money and preventing them from calling the next prospective victim.

Member
Mike N says:
19 August 2015

I have had a lot of these calls and, as I have been a computer professional for more than 30 years and am a retired person with time I have a lot of fun with these. I do my best to keep them on the phone for as long as possible. mis-understand anything they ask me to do If asked to type “www.” I type “wwwdot”. On one call I was asked to type an ‘E’ so I miss heard it as ‘B’ the response was to ask me to type ‘E for event’ then ‘V for victor’ which I duly typed in full and at this point I ran out of space for the typing! we then had a long discussion about the phonetic alphabet while I explained that it was E for elephant and V for veloceraptor. I then got him to spell VICTOR using the phonetic alphabet and got into an argument about it not being ‘O for orange’ but ‘O for a nice cup of tea’ by this time he was so confused that he gave up and rang off but I had kept him away from scamming the unwary for 20+ mins so a good result.

Member
Patrick O'Gorman says:
27 November 2016

Talk Talk re Scammers

Originally I had a problem with my broadband connection, This went on for a couple of days during which I was transferred to various depts. ie faults helpline, network security, help and support,
chat support, technical dept and lastly loyalty dept. As you can see I went to quite a number of depts. While all this was going on I got a call from a man who called himself Eric on 0161 7680 738 asking me whether my broadband was now working. I replied no as my problem was being investigated. I was still having problems with my broadband and my friend suggested i take my router to a local computer shop, which i did. They said the router was useless and suggested I phone you regarding getting a replacement. I reconnected my old router to see whether there was any change but no joy. I telephoned Talk Talk technical dept and told them I had my old router checked and that it was useless. When they checked my
connection they said we don’t show a problem with your broadband. I threatened to close my account and go elsewhere. I was then put through to your loyalty dept. and after explaining all my previous problems agreed to send me a NEW router – which I received the following day. I duly returned the old router to you. What baffles me is how this Eric knew my phone number he even knew I had a new router. While all this was going when my broadband was not working he wanted me to log into a site called “timeviewer”.
Eventually when I did get back on-line I thought to Google this site and found out this was a remote computer controller. After this Eric called me again being very polite and he once again asked me to connect to “timeviewer”. Fortunately I was aware of what he was trying to do. I could tell by his accent that this Eric was a foreign man and asked his full name – he said it was Eric Smith I replied if you are Eric Smith then my name is Donald Trump! He then hanged-up. I would like to thank a man called Francis on 0800 083 2710 at Talk Talk who was a great help and sent me an
e-mail on what to watch out for in the future I understand this 0161 number has been since been barred. I shall certainly be on my guard in the future.
The main reason for sending this e-mail is that scammers can also know some of your personal details even before they telephone you. How else would they know my telephone number or that I received a replacement router?