/ 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 A year later the company called again saying that it had ‘accidentally’ withdrawn too much money from her account and wished to refund the difference.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

And they’re back. So after politely exchaning pleasantries, he informed me my windows computer is sending out the errors and warning informations. This time I very politely stated I that I am a certified windows engineer and can guarantee to him that my computer wasn’t sending out anything, and that his scam was well known in the country. He hung up.

We do not have the callers number to return the call. I guess I should be lucky I was in the process of stealing myself to deal with those cowboy/girls of HMRC (again) [being asked to pay for their mistakes], Otherwise I wouldn’t have wasted the time on him.

I upgraded to Office 2010and had problems. At the end of Jan 2012 I contacted Microsoft Support. After several emails & a couple of lengthy phone calls the problem was sorted.

However, in the middle of all this I had a scam call (similar to the Comantra scam that I understood had been resolved) and wonder if it was connected.
The first Microsoft assistant eventually passed me to another who was more technically competent. When replying to the final email from this first assistant, I noticed a message in the text:-

I did as requested and C.C.’d it (it was Microsoft after all) and, only afterwards, wondered why.
A short time later an ‘Indian’ voice phoned. He seemed rather vague & unsure. He claimed that I had a Trojan problem and that he would help me fix it. He gave me the name of his alleged organisation. I think he said ‘Windows Services’ – though he carefully explained that it was not part of the Microsoft organisation. He seemed to know too much about me and avoided telling me how he had my telephone number. I would have hung up but, thinking back to the email, I was curious and decided to go along with the conversation.
He said that he had a report of unusual activity on their server that came from my PC, that I had corrupt files, that it was a serious infection that must be cleaned right away and that he would help me to do it. He asked for my computer ID and wanted me to search for a system file (asp.net) and to type in a long string of letters. I took a note of all this but told him I was too busy and asked for his name and a number to call back on when I was free. He had not yet suggested any payment.
He said he was Ajeet Kumar and the number was 08000148910
I Googled the number and the search turned up numerous reports of similar scams .
A short time later a Trojan warning from my AVG security program flashed up. It a long time since I had any such message from the AV.
The coincidence was too much.

Does Microsoft Support still have problems in its call centres? Can it be trusted 100%?

Undoubtedly the call from ‘Windows Services’ was coincidental with the conversation you had with Microsoft. They get your phone number from the telephone directory and work on the principle that if you phone enough people, some will be running Windows and will think they have specific information about them. In truth they are just fishing and will get an occasional catch – as happened to you. Trojan warnings are also regular events, and it’s easy to think that when more than one thing happens at a time, there’s enemy action afoot. But that’s just the world of computing.

It’s nothing to do with Microsoft and certainly isn’t indicative of shortcomings in their call centres.

An Asian lady called us to help us on how to secure our PC from a potential harmful virus. She asked me to tureen on the PC. I put the phone to one side for 10mins before she asked if I was ready , then I hung up. She said all the wrong things. I have a iMac not a Microsoft machine. But she was persistent and determined to help me.

Valerie says:
24 February 2012

I had a lengthy conversation with an Asian sounding lady who told me that my PC had errors when I connected to the internet and she could get rid of them for me. She very abruptly told me to turn on my PC which I said I couldn’t do right then as I was in the middle of something else (true). However she wouldn’t take no for an answer and kept asking if I was ready to turn it on, getting more persistent all the time. I had a bit of fun asking her to explain what these errors were – was it a virus infection etc – but she said no it wasn’t a virus it was some other sort of error. When I got fed up with the conversation I tried to politely end it, which proved impossible (I didn’t like to just hang up in case there was something in all this) so I asked the name of the company she worked for and she told me a name which began Microsoft… I said was it part of Microsoft and she quickly responded that they worked with Microsoft. I then said I wouldn’t turn on my PC or go any further until I had checked up on the company. A bit of mumbling at the other end but I firmly repeated that I would check up first. The line suddenly went dead.

Your phrase ‘…in case there was something in all this’ is the only concerning part of your post. There is NEVER ‘anything in’ an unsolicited, unexpected phone call from someone telling you there is something wrong with your computer. They are always scammers and you can be as rude as you like with them.

Why is it that these scammers are always untraceable? Why cannot we know what number they are calling from?

And as a person who phones India regularly, how can these people afford to keep phoning?

You can’t know the number they are calling from because it’s overseas and also because they don’t want you to know it.

You can Skype India for next to nothing.

Gillian King says:
24 February 2012

I don’t usually answer calls when the caller ID number is not recognisable as a legitimate number. The caller can leave a message and a number to ring back if he is genuine. Sometimes for fun I ask for details of the fault (at some length), thank them and say I’ll get my local expert to look at the computer.

Kermit – This begs the question. That they are calling from overseas should not be a reason why their number is untraceable, and obviously they do not want you to know their number. No number should be untraceable.

And they are not using Skype. I often Skype India, and it costs absolutely nothing.

If only we lived in a perfect world…

…but we don’t!

Regarding the cost of calls, I was attempting to answer your question asking how they could afford to keep phoning. Skype to landline is very cheap, but it DOESN’T cost absolutely nothing.

Ossie says:
26 February 2012

My sister lives in France, and various friends in other places overseas, so I do often pick up when the number shows as ‘unavailable’, or is just identified as being overseas.

If it is one of THEM – as it often is – if I have nothing better to do I will occasionally play the wind-up game. It did backfire once, though, with a boiler-room share scammer (incidentally, I haven’t had one of those for quite a while) – he was so incensed by the time of his I’d wasted (and my farewell comments) that for the next month or two I got regular abusive or hang-up calls that I’m sure were his or his colleagues.

The ones that always make me laugh, and that I cannot resist a bit of repartee with, are the obviously non-British voices that tell me their name is ‘Michael’ or ‘Jane’. Yesterday I had a very Indian-sounding ‘Stephen’ who told me I had dangerous issues with my computer, etc, etc, and he wanted to help me solve them. I asked his last name…um, Smith, allegedly. Well, I said, I think we’ve not started out well here: I do obviously need to trust you before I let you into my computer, wouldn’t you agree? And the truth is that the first thing you said to me was a lie: how can I trust you now? What do you mean, he asked. Your name is not Stephen Smith, I suggested. Yes, yes, it is. Look, I said, let’s do a deal: if you tell me your real name and where your call-centre is, we can perhaps have a conversation. End of call.

One person I tried that with a few months ago did actually tell me his real (or realer) name, and then asked if I could offer him a better job in England!

The fact is that ALL unsolicited calls – sales, ‘marketing’, or scams – are at bottom borderline immoral and/or illegal and/or dangerously fraudulent: it’s only a matter of degree. Feel no compunction at hanging up…and if you have a bit of time on your hands, by all means play with them a bit. Another quite entertaining one is the ‘yes’ conversation: to every single statement or question that is asked, whatever it is, answer ‘yes’ – vary the tone, the pitch, the length of the word, as if you’re thinking, or acting on their instructions….but always just the word ‘yes’. They become increasingly confused and frustrated, often assuming that they are having a language problem, or that you are very slow on the uptake. It always takes at least eight to ten yes’s before they click – often a dozen, my record is 17! It can drive them absolutely crazy, it’s such good fun!!

Just had another call this time using a different tactic, wanting to show me the windows prefetch folder and explain how virus checkers don’t check this folder.

He was from a company called Arjunaa Internet Security and wanted me to go to support dot me (I’ve not written it as he asked to avoid people clicking on it )

All told he rambled on and on for 43 mins before I refused to goto the website he mentioned at which point he said they’re very glad when they hear of people getting scammed as its their own fault for not knowing anything about computers.

Time the government really sat up and did something, and its the last time I don’t cut them off within the first 5 seconds.

damien bird says:
20 April 2012

[Hello Damien, we have had to remove the content of your comment as we don’t allow individual’s personal details to be posted. However, thanks for posting it – we have forwarded it to the relevant experts here and we also suggest that you send the information to Action Fraud. Thanks, mods.]

I really wish someone somewhere would take action over these parsites. Yep you’ve guessed it , just had ANOTHER call.

Sorry for yet another post.

As I can’t see anyone stepping up and helping people like me. How about Which? conducting a survey on Call Blocking devices. PLEASE. Even the cheapest around £50 is alot to spend for someone unemployed and not getting any benefits.

I don’t quite see the problem – simply put the phone down – never ever give any personal or computer information over the phone from anybody who you don’t know personally. The TPS is free and reduces most scam calls..

The problem is simply the volume of calls and the TPS doesnt even prevent companies like SSE from ringing me and it has zero power over the foreign call centres. If I had truly nothing better to do than keep picking up the phone and hanging up fine, but I have a life ( albeit in a little fashion – budgetry constrained). And dont worry I probably know more about my PCs (yes I have more than one) than the scammers ( worked in IT for 25 years before being made redundent – as its cheaper to bring in foriegn workers to do the same work but under a different team/job title).

Richard

My experience is that I am called back if I simply put down the phone. TPS works well but I suspect that it stops only calls that are not scams.

I have had ten calls in a day and it does get wearing.

The best way to stop calls seems to be to have enough discussion that the caller realises you are a bad lead.

Wavechange

I can only say that my method – of auto answer phone and TPS reduced my scam and cold callers to about two a month or less – Before it used to be up to three or four a day. Haven’t spoken to one for years. ‘Proper’ callers leave messages or start to talk – so as the phone is by the computer I reply ‘instantly’.

Simply lifting and putting the phone down simply indicates the owner is at home and worth a second try.

I’ve got a Panasonic KX-TG6421E phone with caller display linked to a named list. If a number comes up that I don’t know I let it go to answerphone, but if a message is left I hear it and can if necessary pick up the call. It has a blocked number list to which I can add to with a few key presses – any future calls from that number will get an engaged tone and I hear nothing. Off course, it will not be able to block calls where the number is withheld, is disguised, or overseas but these types of callers usually ring off pretty smartly when they hear my message.
Intriguingly, although my landline won’t display overseas numbers, my mobile has no problems with calls from the same phones so the technology is available, it just needs to be implemented. I guess that it just comes down to money, and BT is not charging enough to be able to update its system.

Following Richard’s suggestion I have been putting down the phone on junk calls or simply not answering. It did not work five years ago, when the caller would usually call back. I am now having much more success.

I just get a lot of people leaving no message on the answering machine.

i love it when the computer scammers ring me. i keep them on as long as possible one of my tricks is pretending to be extremely hard of hearing and get them really shouting their questions and i always ask them to repeat their questions two or three times very funny then i introduce the confused feature after listening to their dribble for around ten mins i ask them if thats my taxi the hardest part is trying not to laugh

No need pretending to be unable to hear them. In most cases they are unintelligible and unable speak proper English that one is compelled to keep asking them to repeat what they just said more clearly and more slowly.

And again …

This time “Henry” wanted asked to speak to Mrs me. And since their isn’t one, he then decided he should talk to me.

So I just asked which scam was he operating today ? The windows event viewer or the prefetch folder one or maybe one I hadn’t heard of yet. At that point hejust hung up.

[Hello William, we have edited your comment since parts of it could be seen as offensive. Thanks, mods.]

Josquine says:
19 March 2012

Hey, that’s uncalled for! Just because there are a few rotten apples, don’t generalise. You may feel we shouldn’t give aid for other reasons, but this is not a valid one. Anyway I rather suspect that there are ‘western’ people behind those making the calls.
On the general issue, I am much enjoying this thread, and can’t wait for my next call. I haven’t had one for ages, but when one does come, I shan’t do my normal ‘curses on you for the evil you do’ but will keep the person occupied as long as possible!

Hello William and Josquine, we have edited William’s comment – please try and stay on the topic of technical support scams. Thanks, Patrick.

Sorry if I caused any offence. You can probably tell I’m getting rather annoyed by the none ending bomdardment of these calls that I’ve not asked for and would never need, being a former computer technician. I am deeply concerned that no one seems willing or able to do something visibly constructive/productive for all those less computer savy people out there who do have computers and no one to warn them about phone scams. Same for ppi etc etc. The number of times I’ve got annoyed with my elderly mother who was brought up in a time of trust and responsiblity for her not just hanging up on these scams, her words, I can’t do that its not polite. And I’d love to buy a gadget or phone for me, my daugther, my parents, but not having an income and there being alot gadgets out there who knows which one is best value for value, oh wait I’ve already asked for someone to check. Again sorry. I’ll keep my next post to just documenting when I’m called by the computer scammers again, c u soon (unfortunately).

Hi William, I understand it wasn’t your intention – but best to play it safe. And I can understand why you’re frustrated – make sure you report them to Action Fraud: http://www.actionfraud.org.uk/

Had a call just now, slightly different from previous ones. I need Cloud backups for my valueable datas. Not sure if this is a new scam, but it started my alarm bells ringing when I was asked to goto their website. The caller even tried to “scare” me into needing cloud backups (I’d already told him I do my own on site backups) due to the viruses and microsoft phone scams that could damage my datas. He was very persistant, got a supervisor involved but finally they gave up. Any company that wants my business needs to unblock their phone number for starters. Good luck all and be wary. Oh They claimed to be a Manchester based company

Ok, bored now. I kind feel slightly sorry for these people, which is unfortunately mitigated by how annoyed they make me. Apparantly my router is infected and sending out the informations, sigh. They have my address and phone number ( she actually quoted the wrong house number – doh), as its what I gave when I registered my computer. FAIL. I built it myself so I know I havent registed it. She then hung up. Sigh. Is there a world record for the number of the calls I get as I must be close to breaking it.

John says:
28 March 2012

I am currently getting calls from someone from abroad claiming to be from Microsoft to fix my computer.
Should I ignore him or could it possibly be genuine?

🙁 Doesn’t this article answer you?

Hi John, I’m afraid it is a scam. Please hang up – Microsoft will never call you. Thanks.

It’s pretty hard getting Microsoft to get back to you about a major problem with a computer server, when you are a big company. So this one is always a scam

When will I be able to buy broadband at home, without needing to have a land-line telephone?

Three out of every four telephone calls these days are unwanted. I have a phone that speaks the incoming phone number, when it says that it is withheld, international or starts with 08 (as in 0870) we don’t answer it any more.

Off-topic but never!

Your simple solution is to throw the telephone handsets in the bin, as you don’t need the voice line.

Just had another call and I think I upset “Daniel” from the windows department of the Microsoft operating system. I just asked how much he was going to be paying me. To which he answered are you a computer technician? Oh, yes for many many years. And his response, “you’re a f***ing idiot” and he then hang up. Sigh. And since my previous post I’ve been averaging 4-5 silent calls a day, as I now never say anything when I answer the phone. Fortunately my mum knows a trick to getting me to talk first.

Terry says:
8 May 2012

I’ve had innumerable calls from “Windows Support” with Indian accents and as I know they’re a scam I have reported them to the National Fraud Authority. Now I greet them by saying brightly “That’s great you called because you I’ve contacted the National Fraud Authority and they’d like your direct phone number and postal address so that they can eliminate you from their enquiries about a fraud that’s happening” The line goes dead. Bingo!

In my view such problems won’t be tackled unless the authorities get pro-active. The police aren’t interested unless you’ve lost money, but the people that know it’s a fraud are the main people who are going to report it – the people who pay the money are mainly unsuspecting, even after the event.

Meanwhile the organisers are operating large call centres and living (allegedly) in huge mansions from the profits….

Diane Lee says:
9 May 2012

Just had a phone call from Arjunaa – the man was very aggressive and would hardly let me get a word in when trying to question him. He tried to persuade me he was ringing from somewhere in UK but several phrases he used showed he was obviously ringing from the Indian sub continent. His ploy was to say they were fighting computer hackers and wanted me to check my computer security. Even though I wouldn’t allow anyone to access my computer and am very suspicious of anyone ringing up now a days with any sort of offer I can easily imagine how easy it would be to sucumb to their scare tactics and his 5 min phone call has left me very shaken.

My advice – don’t even let them get into their sales talk and tell them very forceably to remove your details from their records. It might work!