/ Technology

Why it’s time to cut off the technical support scammers

Someone you don’t know phones up and tells you that there’s something wrong with your computer. What do you do? Hang up, or give them remote access to your PC and hand over your money?

We’re still hearing from people on a weekly basis who’ve been cold-called by so called technical support companies.

Here’s how the scam works.

Someone rings you and says you have errors on your computer. They then remotely access your PC and show you what appear to be error messages – they are, in fact, an innocent log file. They offer to fix your computer and then sign you up to a technical support package – for a fee.

Scammers using new techniques to defraud

Sadly, far too many are still falling for these calls and are paying for ongoing technical support that they don’t need. Moreover, it seems that – like a computer virus – the scam is beginning to mutate.

Which? Computing heard from a reader, Janet Lawrence, who had signed up to a support package with an India-based company; Online PC Care. A year later the company called again saying that it had ‘accidentally’ withdrawn too much money from her account and wished to refund the difference.

However, in order to pay Janet back, the company said it needed a scan of her passport. Janet sent them the scan, but later discovered that her online bank account was frozen and, on further investigation, that Online PC Care had taken over £2,400 from her account.

What can you do if you’ve been caught out?

Rather than take the fraud lying down Janet reported it to her local police force, Action Fraud (the UK’s national fraud reporting centre) and to her bank; everyone who should have be informed in this case.

Janet did well to follow this up, although, as Richard Parris pointed out in his Conversation about online fraud, it isn’t always obvious where to report scams such as these.

Despite letting the police and her bank know Janet’s had a hard time reclaiming her lost funds. Action Fraud gave her a Crime reference number – clearly acknowledging that a crime had taken place. But, while Barclays initially repaid her money, it later wrote to her querying the fraudulent nature of the withdrawals.

Thanks to our Money Helpline, Barclays has now acknowledged the fraud.

What’s being done to tackle support scams?

That’s good news for Janet but, based on all the people we’ve heard from who are still receiving these calls, I can’t help wondering if enough is being done to stop these scammers.

We spoke to Action Fraud to see what steps it was taking against these types of scam. It wouldn’t confirm how many calls it had received about Online PC Care, but it did tell us that ‘anecdotally, we have heard of them.’

Action Fraud doesn’t actively investigate cases but instead refers them to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), which collates similar complaints. The NFIB wouldn’t say whether it was investigating Online PC Care specifically.

Even if the authorities close down Online PC Care, there will be another firm looking to step into its place. In the meantime, it seems it’s down to us to deal with these scammers. The best way to avoid technical support scams? Hang up as soon as they call.

Comments

Why can’t the government simply force phone companies to offer a free service to customers to block calls from withheld or false numbers (I’ve been called several times and the return number was 000000000000, yep 12 0’s). I don’t ask for these calls so why should I pay my phone provider to block them for me. And yes I know we’d then start getting calls from genuine numbers but at least it would be easier for the authorities to take action. And while I’m on this subject increase the remit of the TPS to include these scam calls from overseas call centres.

I agree. I want to block all withheld and number unavailable calls, and I don’t think I should be charged for this. If a genuine UK caller wants to get through to me, they can dial 1470 to divulge their number on a per-call basis.

I totally agree and especially about overseas calls. What is this Regulator doing about junk calls from Belgium trying to see more trash to my ex wife who handed out the phone number and fortunately has left but it seems I can’t stop these nuisance calls.

Any useful advice??

Harry says:
17 March 2012

The annoying thing here is that it costs telephone companies absolutely nothing to block calls once they have it set up. It might be fair to charge a nominal 25p per quarter just so they can cover the cost of enabling it, but anything above that is just unreasonable profiteering. And in any case they could cut out most of the costs by making the facility customer-controlled and automatically available on all lines.

But that is really a side issue. The telephone companies must surely know who these callers are, even when they withold their number — otherwise, they would not be able to route the recipient’s voice back to the caller. So, what’s actually needed is for the recipient to be able to dial a special code during the call which freezes the line and logs all the data for investigation (both at the source, the destination and any other service that the call passes through). Taking action requires international co-operation, but at least systematically collecting and preserving the call data would be a start.

Ways of parting people with their money have existed for as long as we have used it. It is good that attention is being paid to these scams, but even they are stopped, others will take their place.

I never buy anything or provide any information to unsolicited callers. Having to deal with the calls takes time and sometimes calls are at an inconvenient time. Today I have had one about Microsoft Windows (which I don’t have) and one about loan consolidation (I have no loans at present), which were easy to deal with.

The easy answer seems to be a ban on unsolicited calls from companies.

I get these calls quite often. If I have time when they call, I try to waste their time by repeatedly putting them on hold “while I answer another call on my mobile” during which time I just get on with other things. I even make my mobile ring to make it more credible. I had a call once where the scammer tried to get me to use http://www.gotomypc.com and was about to give me his passcode for it. Knowing that GoToMyPC is a reputable company owned by Citrix, I phoned their US 1-800 support number for free via Skype, again while I kept the scammer on hold. GoToMyPC were going to take the scammer’s passcode and then trace their IP address, but unfortunately that time I kept the scammer holding too long and he hung up.

Dull Spark says:
10 February 2012

I like that, it would be good if Which? could publicise this solution more widely, I am sure many people would try and contact gotomypc and try and have these people removed.

I’ve just had another one of these calls. I wasted 93 minutes of his time while I did other things (method explained above). He asked me to go to three different web sites so he could get access to my PC – http://www.ammyy.com, http://www.showmypc.com and finally http://www.logmein.com. With the last one, I phoned LogMeIn’s support on Skype and gave them the 6-digit code that the scammer asked me to enter. They were very grateful and blocked the scammer’s account and hopefully also traced his IP address. So quite a result – 93 minutes when the scammer couldn’t waste gullible people’s time and one of his accounts is now closed down. At the end of the call, I told the scammer that my internet connection had stopped working (not true) and I accused him of breaking it! He then hung up.

I just had another one of these calls and wasted 40 minutes of the scammer’s time, during which I gave his 6-digit code to LogMeIn.com. Unfortunately because of the time of day, LogMeIn weren’t using their normal US call centre and were less on the ball. The scammer had a heavy Indian accent, claimed to be based in Oxford, that his name was Max Brown from IT Solutions and that his phone number was 020 3026 3958. Eventually I got rid of him by telling him he’d broken my internet connection. Next time I might set up a virtual PC with no access to my data so I can see what they try to do.

Since I use Linux I had a similar idea. Simply let them hear me typing in everything they asked me to, knowing full well that Linux wold make no sense of it at all, then I’d read them the error message, and so on, just to see how long it took them to figure it out.

Then I thought, maybe I could actually let them access my computer, simply create a blank user so that even if they did manage to connect to me they couldn’t do anything, and then I could try to trace back to where they were calling from and notify the authorities. I’d be a hero, I thought…

When I finally got the call I lost my temper instead and told the guy to iss poff…

Wasting their time is a good way to hinder their enterprise. I do this as often as I can in as many ways as I can invent. This applies particularly to suspected scammers rather than just cold callers trying to sell me something.

I have a simple rule of thumb to deal with callers. If it’s not a call I’m expecting I always presume it to be either a sales call or a scam. If I believe it to be a sales call, I accept that they’re only doing their job (annoying as they may be) and hang up quickly after politely making it clear that I’m not interested in whatever they’re selling.

If however, I believe it to be a scam, I switch to ‘wind-up’ mode and keep them on the line as long as possible while trying to invent as many delaying ploys as I can think of. These people are after all criminals and deserve all the rubbish I can throw at them.

And it’s fun! Not for them mind you – they often terminate the call swearing at me, but hey, it’s worth it to know I’ve helped ruin a villain’s day.

Register with the Telephone Preference Service to avoid sales calls and then you don’t need to be quite so polite if they call you.

I’ve been registered with the TPS for years and I still receive plenty of marketing calls, often from within the UK, sometimes from a non-withheld number. The caller’s excuse is always that it was a one-off error, but I’m sure that’s what they say to everyone, as they never check the TPS before calling. I report them whenever possible, but I’m sure the TPS is inundated with complaints if my own experience is anything to go by, and nothing ever happens.

My experience is that the callers say they are not selling anything. I don’t spend enough time listening to them to find out.

If I don’t pick up the phone, the caller does not leave a message but is likely to call back repeatedly. I have seen this where the number is not withheld.

When I have mentioned TPS I have heard various replies. Some have never heard of it, others do not use it and some say that it does not apply to them.

We need get unsolicited calls banned.

par ailleurs says:
7 February 2012

As we know, TPS works really quite well. The occasional debt agency which got through in spite of my TPS registration got an ear bashing and a threat and soon backed off. The big problem is the bogus service calls from India. They are all crooked without exception so I employ the same time wasting game as others. It’s great fun too. After all they are criminals who are trying to extract money from you so why be nice? My personal best involved pretending to be a computer dunce and making a mess of their instructions. The PC wasn’t even switched on. I strung it out to nearly 20 minutes and the original rep fetched the supervisor to help as they obviously thought that some rich pickings were available.
On a more serious note though we must all do our best to educate those with less technical knowledge and interest in these matters. They must get the occasional hit or it wouldn’t be worth their while carrying on.

Can anyone tell me if going ex-directory would stop unsolicited phone calls?

If it was that simple I guess that someone would have suggested this.

I know for a fact that the computer scam targets people world wide. I’ve had reports from friends in Canada and the US replying to some of my facebook rants about these scammers.

I wonder how these scammers got hold of so many numbers. I wonder if it has anything to do with companies off shoring to India ?

BT regularly deliver to me large volumes of telephone numbers. They call them telephone directories.

Kermit

That’s why I went ex directory.

Harry says:
17 March 2012

They just use well-known exchange codes and add random digits to the end. Or, they work through 00000001 to 99999999 until somebody answers.

Going ex-directory doesn’t stop scam calls – But the Telephone Preference Service does reduce the numbers of calls. The most effective method I use is to keep my phone on answer mode all the time. I simply wait for the caller to speak and “break in” if it is warranted. I don’t get many cold calls now.

Bur I would never give ID information or access to cold callers.

On the very rare Technical scams – I gently explain I have a degree in electronics and one in computing (I have both) – I taught computing and have been building computers for sale since 1980 – they don’t call again! – But nothing will eradicate such calls completely as some use random automatic dialling

Thanks Richard. I assumed that going ex-directory would not help, and I logged my number with the TPS years ago.

Although I know little about PCs (I use Macs) it is has not been difficult to outwit callers with fairly simple questions, when I have decided to have a little fun.

magicman131 says:
8 February 2012

For weeks, months, I have constantly been having these scam phone-calls from either somewhere in U.K. and/or Asia.!!! They caller tends to be a female saying, quote ‘ I’m ringing from Windows or Microsoft to advise you that we have detected your having problems with your computer and with your help, we can put matters right.’ !!! Sometimes the caller is a male person, also sounding very Asian and very convincing. I always let them ramble away and then tell them your phone call is being recorded only to then find they hang up rapidly.

Having just listened to the story in more detail on the current Which? podcast. I do not understand why Barclays refunded ALL Janet’s money (or why Which? pushed for this) when she behaved unwisely on several occasions. Why should other customers of the bank have to foot the bill? I don’t know if Which? can do anything about a rogue company based in India but at least it should be exposed.

I hope that Janet will give the money to charity and be a little more careful next time. Anyone with a bank account or computer needs to take appropriate precautions to keep confidential information secure.

Where do you find the current Which? podcast?

It used to be linked in the Tech Weekly Update email every time, but recently they seem to have stopped it.

If you go to Which.co.uk you’ll see a link to the Podcast page at the top. Here it is: http://www.which.co.uk/podcasts/

Yes, but why have they stopped linking it in the weekly email? I prefer to hear of it that way.

Jimbo says:
10 February 2012

i had a call today the caller said he I had a fault with windows. I told him i was looking out of my windows and there was nothing wrong with them. He put the phone down on me.

Iain Ferguson says:
10 February 2012

I am on TPS and rarely get sales calls. Do get the Windows Virus Scam quite often and just wind them up. My daughter loves listening to the calls and we should really record them and broadcast them. Had one call on New Year’s Eve and after a while the Asian guy realised I was winding him up and then started talking about what I was going to be doing to celebrate the New Year and what he was planning. I reckon he could have talked away the night so ended the call politely wishing him a happy new year. Just after midnight he called back to wish us a happy new year, no mention of Windows Viruses either 🙂

John Holden says:
10 February 2012

One of these scams is operated by an outfit calling themselves Microsoft Windows Global Tech. They phone up and try to convince you that your computer is infected (by getting you to look at the Event Log, which they reckon will scare you). They offer to help by taking control of your computer, in return for a credit card charge.

Since we can’t send a jolt of current back up the line to them, another solution is needed. It seems to me that the credit card companies are the critical link and by accepting payments for the scammers, they are facilitating the scam. If people who’ve been caught out then report the scam to their credit card company, we may see some progress (and fewer annoying calls).

As someone else said “Follow the money”. If the credit card companies refuse to pay over fees to the scammers, they’ll stop.

David says:
10 February 2012

TPS is fine as long as calls are from the UK but most scams come from outside our sceptred isle.
If someone phones me to say there is a problem with my PC I tell them I am a Microsoft Certified Engineer (I am not) and to tell me my IP address, their IP address and the motherboard serial number they think I have a problem with. Guess at which point they put the phone down? Noramlly it’s right after the word engineer but even the worst cases get no further than the next few words. They say you can’t con a con man. Oh yes you can!

veloman says:
10 February 2012

I try to waste their time as much as possible. The trouble is I cannot keep from laughing. Last time I started to act dumb and talk about my Microsoft washing machine and, amazingly, the guy kept talking to me for another 10 minutes, though I had to keep apologising for having something stuck in my throat while I chortled. I ended up asking him why he was making me laugh so much and received a string of expletives in reply. Haven’t had many of these calls since this episode, so it may be worth getting them to put the ‘phone down on you. It’s certainly satisfying.

I’m actually beginning to enjoy baiting these people.

I’ve been in IT 25 years and I treat it like I’m interviewing someone for a job, with me posing as being not quite IT literate. I keep asking them to explain in detail, which of course they struggle with.

The other phrase I use is ‘Do you do goats?’ Apparently ‘goats’ spoken by an English person to an Indian scammer does not translate very well. I’ve heard back….

‘goots?’
‘groats?’
‘coats?’

and so on . When they get it, some think it’s a racial slur (which it isn’t) and THEY slam the phone down.

Victory!

My father gets loads of these scam calls – despite not even having a computer. I can’t print what he tells them to do!!

Josquine says:
11 February 2012

I feel sorry for ‘ordinary’ cold callers, as they’re only trying to earn an honest living. I still put the phone down on them pretty quickly though.
But these people who are specifically trying to do harm – well as soon as I hear them tell me there’s something wrong with my computer, I actually say something like “I call a curse on you for all the evil you are trying to do’, hoping it might spook some of them anyway!

I hope you don’t feel sorry for those cold callers who ignore the fact that people have registered with the TPS to avoid their calls.

For the record, I will never have anything to do with cold callers, those who call at the door and those who send unsolicited emails. If anyone wants my business they can set up a website or place an entry in Yellow Pages. The best way to get my business is to impress my friends and neighbours, because personal recommendation is important to me.

Sorry that this is off-topic but I question whether making unsolicited phone calls can be classed as earning an honest living.

I often get calls from people claiming that they are offering “windows support” and they have detected a virus on my computer and that they are offering help. I try to keep them on as long as possible to prevent them from calling others. I act amazed that they can have this information, I wonder where the virus came from, I ask them if they work for Microsoft and then finally I tell them I’ve got a Mac so they’re quite clearly lying to me. Generally, they’ve hung up in despair long before I get that far. I need to work on my acting ability.

Mikhail says:
14 February 2012

BT and Virgin sells your information to third parties and it is not in their interest to block that calls neither prevent you from calling premium numbers. You may ask how do I know it. I had a misfortune to order a BT landline (I’m not British and I’m not registered on the electoral roll, so no publicly available information on me). A week after I refused to take BT’s broadband I received 3 letters from Talk Talk and Sky addressed to me, I have NEVER previously contacted those companies! Shortly after the landline was activated I started receiving personalised calls from insurance companies, injury lawyers, etc. I was seriously angry, as I also paid for the BT privacy service, which was rubbish, by the way.

In the end of the 1st month, I called BT to cancel the service; I paid £93 to stop the contract.

After that I purchased a virtual local number (DID or VoIP-in) in my area, from a private company for £1.5 per month, the service includes caller ID, answer phone, call forwarding, fax to email, email to fax, calls recording, all can be managed via their website. If I’m going away I can take all these services with me anywhere in the world where I can find the Internet connection. The only other investment I made I purchased VoIP/landline handset for £70. By the way, calls to the UK mobile using some VoIP companies cost as little as £0.02pm., calls to the landlines are free. There is only one disadvantage if your Internet is down, the phone is down too.

Malcolm K says:
14 February 2012

I have challenged some callers with the TPS and occasionally they have stated that they’re not covered by this as they are a survey or market research company. Is this correct?
And yes; some of these companies eventually try to (unsuccessfully) sell me something.
I’ve got better things to do with my time than wind up scammers; I just don’t want the calls!
I do as some others have reported; if the number is withheld or International I wait for the answering machine to kick in, and then pick up the call if I’m happy to do so. With my Panasonic phone I can also block specific phone numbers; I believe if they call they get an engaged signal.

Yes, TPS is only for opting out of receiving unsolicited sales or marketing calls from UK based firms (even if they call from abroad); organisations will still be able to call you for the purposes of GENUINE market research.

However, if a firm purporting to be carrying out market research later starts trying to sell you something, you can still report them to TPS.

Even if phone number is withheld, best to get from them at the start who they are representing, look them up on the Web and then report them if they are based in UK.

Hi Malcolm,
Unfortunately they’re quite correct to a point. In my eyes the TPS is a total waste of space, as it’ll only prevent the “honest” companies from ringing you. The ones that don’t care about your right to a quiet life will aim to conduct a survey or some such which isnt covered by the TPS as a lead in to their sales pitch.( Which of course is covered). Sneaky eh.

Other excuses I’ve been given when quoting the TPS is that you need to keep re-registering which if you check the TPS, registering as an individual you don’t need to re-register, unless you change yoru number of course.
Bout time the TPS was beefed up and given some proper clout (sp).

Harry says:
17 March 2012

Yes, its high time that TPS was extended to cover:

a) Surveys and marketing research, neither of which should be legal to perform by outgoing telephone call in the first place. Proper market research should be anonymous, which cannot be guaranteed when the calling company knows your telephone number. And the recipient has no way to tell whether the caller is working for a legitimate company or is doing “research” for the purpose of planning a burglary or fraud.

b) Courtesy calls — they are usually an *annoyance* not a courtesy and if wanted some information from the company, I would be calling them not the other way around.

c) Anybody want to add to the list?