/ 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 A year later the company called again saying that it had ‘accidentally’ withdrawn too much money from her account and wished to refund the difference.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
Fiona - Cumbernauld says:
18 May 2012

I just had this very call, but it sounded dodgy from the outset so I just told her I was unable to access my pc at that time and she hung up!

Paul Grice says:
26 May 2012

I had some problems with my PC and I searched for help/support. I called the number shown on the search and I got through to Guruaid.com on a freephone who said they would help me sort out the problems and provide ongoing support 24/7. I understand that this is a subscription service which costs about £90 per year and that they help with computer tuneups, maintaining optimum system health, security etc
I have had a look online and they appear to be a bona-fide Microsoft approved support supplier.
I have actually considered subscribing and I wondered if anyone had experience with this firm or whether essentially this type of coverage is basically unnecessary.

It’s basically unnecessary.

It’s worthwhile if you don’t really consider yourself tech savvy 🙂

tony says:
4 June 2012

hi
i have just had the same call from a woman saying she was working with windows and that i had
warnings and alerts on my conputer they even told me where to look so i belived them and for a fee
they could fix these for me 1 year was £90 2 years £130 i went for the 2 years i paid with my
palpay could i put this payment in to dispute or is to late
the company is elagoon infotech

Don’t wait for – go to your PayPal account now and try to recall the payment if possible. In the list of payments if the status is unclaimed click on this and then cancel transaction.
Otherwise – open a dispute in your Resolution Centre.
And – don’t accept an invitation to allow remote control of your PC to try and ‘fix’ the ‘problems’.

Good luck

And they’re back this time with a slightly different tactic. To try and prove they are talking about you’re computer they’ll get to run a command prompt and type assoc, which lists all the computer file associations.

.zfsendtotarget=CLSID\{888DCA60-FC0A-11CF-8F0F-00C04FD7D062}

Typically one of the last entries will be (not surprising a z is at the end of the alphabet). zip and a load of _ visualstudio stuff could be after it.

Sadly this is not a computers ID and most certainly isn’t unique. As every windows PC will have the same entry for zfsendtotarget, unless you’re a computer “geek” and have changed it yourself.

LG says:
2 July 2012

My mum gets regular calls regarding problems on her computer. She doesn’t have one! Some times she tells them to ‘clear off’ and sometimes she plays along with them to waste their time. Recently she was doing just that. She asked if the service would cost, to which she was told yes. She then asked if they could access her computer. When she she was told yes she replied how amazing their technology was seeing how she doesn’t own one. Normally they hang up at this time, but the other day the man on the other end got very stroppy accusing her of wasting his time. Mum laughed at him and said she was just paying him back for all the times she had been called and her time had been wasted! He wasn’t amused….but mum thought it was funny!

Is it just me who thinks sorting these pests out is a very simple thing if you only had the power or authority to do it, like the supposed regulators have?

1) Give anyone who is plagued by these pests a “fake” credit card.
2) Next time they get a call, go along handing over the fake card details.
3) The company that issued the card can then track were its being presented and the accounts the money is trying to go
4) Send in the authorities if UK based, heavy fines and lengthy prison sentences
5) If they’re abroad, check for any UK based assets and seize the lot and bar them from entering the UK
6) Job done.

The sad thing about this fraud is they could probably make just as much money doing it in a legal honest ethical way. How many people have a computer and would benefit from a virus check and software but have no idea about how to do it themselves. Sigh

Good ideas, William.

The banks surely are the key to many such scams, as soon as the FSA, Which or Banks etc get ANY report of PC scam or Boiler room shares, alert ALL naks not to pass money to their accounts or they will be liable for all Losses

BUT, what really scares me is what time-bomb is stored up. This is happening in all continents. ‘Someone’ or organisation could have control of millions of computers, and their owner’s bank a/c and credit card etc details. Whenever they want to they can bring the internet down, DNS on every target they want, close the banking system down by making massive wirthdrawels the scenario is astonishing1

Domain Name Servers don’t target! It’s Denial-of-Service (Dos) that attack target systems.,

rob pemberton says:
12 July 2012

just had a phone call from a company saying they were working on behalf of my broadband provider. when i asked who my broadband provider was they were they were not able to even tell me.

gave me the postcode of somewhere in cardiff (cf3 3lp) and also the phone number that u use to report faults with bt telephone numbers.

what a scam – don’t get drawn in.

trina says:
18 July 2012

I have just had this very same call stateing that my computer had a problem and had issues with it I’m pretty clued up on scams like this so my words were I’m not stupid please do not call again. and then hung up it was also and indian speaking guy i mean what the hell, do these people really think we’re all that thick lol, heres hoping they dont try again.

Sadly, there are people who are taken in and do pay for this ‘service’ – if there weren’t then the callers would very quickly move onto some other sort of scam. I expect that they are very versatile.

Finglis says:
3 April 2013

Hi I’m afraid your number is placed in a 1 to 31 file and next month another caller will pull your file and call you untill they successfully scam you. I’ve been called 8 times and I threatened them with lawyers. they don’t care, it’s a numbers game!

Frank says:
28 October 2013

Yes – A 1 to 31 file is a breach of the data protection act (as permission does not extend in perpetuity to all and sundry – however obtained)

Finglis says:
2 October 2014

Yes it is against the data protection regs – but who is enforcing it?

Ruth says:
20 July 2012

I have just this minute had a call from a firm calling itself` ‘helppconline’ not sure if it is all one word. I got as far as opening my computer then the fellow who called himself peter harvy despite being from the Indian sub continent, when I asked for conformation as he asked me to run a file. is this firm known to anyone.

Yes, the clue’s in the name – helpp-CON-line.

As you will see from reading the rest of this thread, if anyone phones you out of the blue offering anything at all, it’s probably a scam.

It really doesn’t matter what their name is.

The file he asked you to run? Did he place it on your PC or otherwise get you to download it?

If so, you can bet it is a malicious virus and you should get rid of it PDQ and run an anti-virus.

You should never do anything on your PC in response to these calls as has been said here repeatedly. They can know absolutely nothing about your PC and what’s on it. All they know is your name and phone number which they got from someone selling your personal details or a website you are registered at leaking.

I just had a call from these bottom feeders, they told me I had errors on my pc, I knew immeadiatley that this was a scam, I said to the Indian guy on the phone, this is a fraudulent call and i`m going to call the police, his answer was “ok then F*** Off” I gladly f***ed off without being scammed.
We should do more to stop these illegal scammers and tough sentences should be applied for those who get caught.

So you told him you knew it was a scam and you’d call the police. What makes you think that the British police would have any authority over a scammer in India? Or that the scammer cares anyway? Or that they care when you tell them that you know they’re a scammer and quickly hang up on them? They just move on to their next victim.

Do you think that an Indian scammer will be convicted in a British court?

The only thing to do that has any effect on their operations is to waste their time, as has been said many times before. They are outside UK jurisdiction and if you can keep them on the phone for half an hour (or as much time as you have available), this is the only sanction that will hurt them.

If enough people do it, they may eventually find the enterprise unprofitable.

I haven’t had one of these scam calls for some months now but they are still trying it on with other people I know [perhaps my number has not come up again on their computer or maybe I was out]. While I agree that wasting their time is probably the only effective way to reduce the incidence of this nuisance, I have not yet found a way of wasting their time that does not also waste mine. The last time I engaged an Asian-sounding man in conversation [he purported to be speaking on behalf of Microsoft] he gave me a street address in Crawley, Sussex. In this multi-ethnic country I never presume people are speaking from where it might seem. Scamming is all about deception.

switched on says:
28 April 2013

I have had many of these calls. One I told him the call was being recorded and traced by the police he told me to f- – – k off! and hung up.

The truly sad thing about this scam, is that even with the limited knowledge these people clearly have, I’m sure there must be enough people on this planet with a computer that is having problems that they have no idea how to overcome that a service that aims to “fix” such computers would be a very big hit if they just went about it the right way. Admittedly not such a money maker as scamming people but it would still make money. And it would save me getting calls from friends saying help my computers on the fritz , maybe I should start charging …

Some positive news for once, just a shame no UK authority took the lead. Makes me wonder why we bother having them.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/oct/04/ftc-cracks-down-tech-support-scam

Ask them if they enjoyed their mothers wedding

(It’s a joke, geddit?)

Then get their phone number and address, then sign them up to all the junk mailing you can think of.

Anne says:
28 October 2012

How to waste a scammer’s time: say, “Oh, there’s someone at the door. Just wait a moment, I’ll be back”, lay the phone down on the table and go out for a nice long walk.

Bordersboy says:
28 November 2012

They are still at it. They ring my number and ask for someone else. Despite repeated threats they continue to ring. They seem to have a UK registered office and I am going to report them to trading standards and see if something can be done. The web is full of sites complaining about them but they still have not been shut down

Been retired over a year, and it’s taken that long to reduce the torrent of daytime calls to one a day, at most. I just answer every call with just ‘hello?’ If I don’t recognise the caller’s voice, or they have a foreign accent, or they mispronounce my name, or they ask for the householder, I just hang up. If it’s important, they’ll have my address and can write to me.
Takes time, but this works.

When I answer the phone I don’t say anything as that doesn’t to trigger the transfer from dumb calling system to an operator. I too have noticed a reduction but not total removal of calls.

Got one the other day from “Utility Services” about my British Gas bill, well that was a fail for a start as I’m not with BG. they never learn.

Got spot Anthony, we’ve published a convo about it just this morning.

Working in I.T and communications, I decided to record these scammers last year – I quite enjoy wasting their time.

They originally called me at work, I gave them my ‘special’ number – just for sales calls :p

http://timerider.co.uk/calls/scam.mp3

They called back again the next day, by this time I had a nice virtual machine set up, with a completely clean (never online, even for updates) install of windows XP, it went like this:

http://timerider.co.uk/calls/scam2_.mp3

I had to cut it a little short as had to go to the dentists, Calls after that were redirected to a mate in the US.

Many more calls from other cold callers http://twitter.com/calls4u

Enjoy, try not to laugh too hard 🙂

Mal says:
1 May 2013

Love the calls.

The Wing Commander says:
24 October 2013

Thanks, there are a whole bunch more now, and a ‘how to stop these calls (and more)’ we’re busy producing.

http://youtube.com/calls4u2

* now has high quality audio recordings of these scammers at play.

Alison Davies says:
2 April 2013

I just keep them talking, to waste their time. I am very polite. It is fun, if you have the time. A good one is to keep saying “why” to the things they say, because their script will not cope with that. I also ask them whether their parents call them “Michael” or “Alan” or whatever – they are mostly Indian I think. I waste as much of their time as possible, in a pleasant way, and then when they ask me to switch on my computer I tell them I haven’t got one. I get these calls in London only, not at my other address. One of them once told me very angrily that I was a liar!
Quite a number of years ago at work I had a call from an Indian lady from British Gas Telecom. I told her I couldn’t understand how a telephone could work by gas.

Finglis says:
3 April 2013

The more “stupid” you sound the more they think they might get you…! I always make out I want to do everything they suggest, but I’m new to computers…so bear with me? They tell me to enter Config sys in the command prompt – I say, “my mouse is at the end of the screen and can’t go any further?” “Do I need to move my computer?” After a good few minutes of such comments I then get to “Oh Oh, now it says ” 8 minutes remaining, use alternative power source” what does that mean, it’s in RED? By the time I’ve told them that I panicked and re-booted because that is what my computers for begginers course tutor told me to do to “fix things….” They usually hang up! My record is 16 minutes, can any one beat that? The other one I use is “I’m a bit new to this…etc etc then say “what does LINUX does not support this function mean?” It’s grate fun.