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 A year later the company called again saying that it had ‘accidentally’ withdrawn too much money from her account and wished to refund the difference.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

I usually do not spend much time listening to the scammers but decided to explore how the scam works. After the first chap learned that I don’t have a Windows computer, I was passed to a supervisor, who give me the web address of AMMYY, presumably with the intention of getting me to download software to allow them to control my computer remotely. I explained about the potential danger to me, and that we have been discussing computer scams on Which? Conversation.

I asked the supervisor to let me know which company he was working for and he directed me to AZ PC Solutions. I said that it might jut be best if I phoned them, and put the phone down. I cannot find anything about AZ PC Solutions and cannot find a cheap phone number or email address. I assume that this is a genuine company whose existence if being exploited to add credibility to what the scammers are saying.

Mal says:
1 May 2013

Just had one of these try to scam me and I am working at a company IT department…..
So sad!

Marian says:
6 September 2013

Scam calls from alleged microsoft who said virus on my computer and wanted access ! Told them they had called the internet fraud squad and please could they supply their details for a follow up investigation!
Guess what? They hung up! Never called back either. So befoer you give any info by phone or online, get their personal details, telephone number if possible & pass it on, I had 1 number as the person stupidly didnt withold number so passed it onto police for investigation, its a major problem and I think more should be done about it. After all it is a crime to con people out of money.

sleep says:
17 October 2013

got a call from someone from india. they said I had errors and my computer was a slave to hack material . I had errors in viewer and this was proof of it. wanted me to use teamviewer to see the errors.
repair one time 99.00, 2 years 150.., 10 years 499.
at that point I told them I was broke and could not afford it.
for awhile they had me hooked until money was mentioned. I woke up at that point.

Jenny Willcox says:
24 October 2013

I received a call on Monday from a man called ‘Alan’, although he was not English! He told me I had some ‘problems’ with my computer so I asked what company he worked for and he said ‘Windows Technologies and Services’. I asked where are they based, to which he replied ’28 Monk Road, Wallasey’. He wanted me to switch on my computer and I refused, too busy I said!! So he asked if he could call me back the next day and I agreed, knowing I would be out. One thing that really worries me is that he knew my address. I checked my phone when I arrived home and I had a call but obviously no number available!
I did some on-line research today and this address does not look like a ‘business’, it’s in a ‘residential area’?
I think I am right in being suspicious and that this was a scam and I expect I will receive another call. Can anything be done to find out who and where these calls come from? I am really concerned, as previously stated, he knows my address. Many thanks.

Yes it is a scam, and its easy for these “people” to get enough details about you or I to cause us concern.
I’d start by suggesting you’re probably in the phone book, but my mum gets these calls and I know she isn’t.
She does use companies which have overseas call centres though, do you ? As its been documented that some employees sell on names and addresses to these people.

Always remember that whoever calls you, can claim to be anyone, so always be wary, and ask them to prove who they are before confirming who you are.

The Wing Commander says:
24 October 2013

Just remember when you get a call from any so called ‘tech support’ – they are very unlikely to know the status of your computer. Many times they will claim they are your ISP, this is unlikely. Many times they’ll mention ‘Microsoft’ – they’re not..

Example of what they do (with added humour):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oylEybnS3tc

DawnDi says:
21 March 2014

I have just got off the phone to an Indian man named Charles! he asked if I was the main user I said yes he then asked if I was using windows, I said Yes, at this point INSTINCT told me that it might be a fake call.
I then was told, I bet your computer is very slow and takes ages to fire up. I said Yes
( it’s a new PC and very fast).

Then I was told to to enter ctlr and press r at the same time, many instructions later they asked what I was seeing on screen and could I read out password and number. I gave them a fake number and password, then I was asked to repeat this again slowly, by now approx 15 mins had passed and said I accidentally closed the screen and would have to start over they hung up.

5 mins later – same call same patter I told them that I needed to let the dog out first they said they would wait.
I took my dog out, was out for approx 3/4 hour. they had hung up.

next day they called again this time I told them them where to go and said that the fraud squad had been monitoring the calls .
I hung up.
unfortunately they did not. I was unable to make any calls for over 4 hours. In the end I called BT from my mobile and they got my landline working again…………. lesson learned
1. have answer machine on at all times
2. don’t enter into any kind of conversation with them
3. laugh at the above recorded messages and thank god my instinct kicked in when scammers called
4. thank John my IT guy at work who always told me NEVER EVER, allow anyone to have access to your pc unless they are known and trusted IT PEOPLE

Clare says:
14 June 2014

I had very a call from a man with Indian accent claiming to be from Windows saying they had received messages saying my computer was being hacked. Even though I was very sceptical (I had not read this page at the time) he read out what he called my Windows product licence number, and then directed my to find this 32-digit number on my computer, which matched. This almost convinced me he was from Windows. Still I refused him remote access to my computer, but then he managed to manoeuvre me into it by getting me to go to a website called showmypc.com, which was a Norton-ticked site. He showed various things on my computer and then I could tell he was going to sell me something so I was then convinced it was a scam and ended it. However, I think he had done something to mess up my computer, so I did a system restore.

To display this “licence” did he make you open a command prompt and enter a command and read out the bottom line ?

showmypc is a legit company, just one of many remote access providers that these scammers use.

If you have the code they asked you to enter on it, contact showmypc tell them and they’ll probably close them down, until they get another code.

was the command they got you to run assoc ?

and was the “licence” 888DCA60-FC0A-11CF-8F0F-00C04FD7D062 ?

zfsendtotarget is used to the operating system and its the same on any PC, unless you;’re a real techy and have changed it

I don’t really see why I should have to buy equipment to stop these scam calls.
I should be able to tell my service provider to block calls from, e.g., India.-and it shouldn’t cost me anything to do so.
Is this beyond the wit of man?

Yes, calls can be blocked centrally. However, this depends to a large degree on overseas telecoms providers sending genuine information as the caller id – and not just sending random numbers.

Some don’t yet have the technology to do this – and others just don’t bother, which is why the scammers are often based there 🙁

As to cost – nothing in life is really free. TalkTalk for example provide a last caller block system which is not charged for separately [so is advertised as free], but I do not believe that they are not recovering the cost of their investment in the technology in another way. After all, they are a commercial company which only exists to make profits. Nothing at all wrong in that.

Sue Baldwin says:
15 July 2014

We are always getting these type of calls and although it’s easy to fall for them, especially when the PC seems to be having a hissy fit, thankfully both myself and my husband haven’t been taken in so far. However. We had a call today from a so called company named The Tec. Helpline. I spoke to a man with a broken accent, who said he was phoning to give some advice and help with our PC. He started off by asking for my name and then went on to ask me if I knew that the information on my PC was being shared by someone who had got access to it somehow. Well I was quite alarmed at this, especially as our PC has been doing some odd things lately. Thankfully I thought not to react by giving him remote access to fix it, but I did ask his name, the name of the company and the telephone number (as often when I’ve pressed 1471 before, the call can’t be traced). The number he gave me was 08000314014 and it didn’t match up with the number recorded on my phone, which this time was not withheld. This number was 01843221653. The man gave the name Jim Stark and he said he was based in London. I find it hard to believe a person with that type of accent having that name. Any way, Just thought I’d make people aware of this. And if it’s not a scam, then I guess I’ll have to apologise!

Hi Sue

There is a website for The Tech Helpline, which shows the 0800 number – but nothing I could see on Google for the 01843 one.

The website has a couple of spelling errors, though otherwise looks genuine. However – there are a few comments online which suggest otherwise and that it is an elaborate scam.

I would still take extreme care…

And Jim Stark is the name of the character played by James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause

mandy says:
21 August 2014

hi
i have just had the very same call from an Asian women and man and then the tech was American, saying they were working on behalf of windows working and that i had
warnings and alerts on my conputer they even told me where to look so i belived them, they had me run a command and all the yellow warning and red broken links showed, they logged into my computer to fix them and then asked for a fee to fix the computer. £195.00 . I got angry with her as I had told them from the beginning that if it was a scam or a sales call I wouldn’t be interested. I clicked out and closed the access asap and they then shut down the call. They wanted my bank details to pay the subscription but we didn’t get that far. I consider my self stupid at been taken in, but lucky enough to have realised it was a scam.

Mandy, That will probably have been the event viewer they got you to open, it’s full of yellow and red symbols. No virus or scam software will ever write to write it. And I suspect if they’ve had access to your PC, you’ll need to change your system password to stop they getting access again, and I’d also run a virus scan if I were you too.

good luck.

Mandy, you are not lucky if you gave them remote access to your computer. You are in danger of having your data compromised and possibly theft if, for instance, you do banking or shopping online.

If you did in fact allow them to control the computer you should turn if off immediately and take it to a reputable technician to have it repaired.

christine says:
16 October 2014

I had the Micro scam just 2 days ago. It left me very upset.The ever typical Indian’s, they bully with their talk until your head’s all over the place, I actually let them on my computer with the fixed page of error’s etc. I really was getting more angry & upset with them & then he pounced with the price £129.00 1 off payment, I told him (several times) that I had an IT expert in the family & wanted him with me before I did anything, he then became very agitated as I was shouting. He then cut off. Thankfully without money, if left me absolutely in bits, I turned every thing off. My nephew came that evening & certified that everything was secure & that they had not got beyond the fixed page. Please beware of these horrible callers, wish I,d seen these comments before! The phone no’s they used were 02085396956 & Vi Tech or The Tech(accent allowing) 08000314014 which I have seen above.

mandy says:
21 August 2014

the company that scammed me was called “The tech helpline” 01752251310. website they took me to was http://www.logmein.com. also their website http://www.thetechhelpline.com

just in case anyone in the Northeast area gets the same call.

Mandy, FYI There are loads of legit companies offering remote access services, theses scammers often use them. Chances are that the logmein website you’ve listed is legit and just an unwitting 3rd party in these scams.

And the phone number you’ve listed is probably spoofed from a legit company too. On google its showing up as belonging to a car dealership in Plymouth.

Our phone providers really don’t care who they connect as long as they get paid.

As always if you get a call out of the blue ( or even if you’re expecting one) never take the word of the person calling, unless you recognise the voice. Its easy to ring up claiming to be something you’re not. Just ask them to prove they are who they say they are. e.g. If you’re bank rings you get them to prove its your bank and not a con artist chancing his/her/its arm. Your bank should be happy you’ve made them go to the trouble of doing that, just as any other legit company should.

FYI thetechhelpline website was registered in Arizona.

Have just recieved cold call, even shows a number, telling me comp on the blink
asked him what’s the problem (already knowing scam going on) let him go through all his speil seemingly doing as he asked banging on a few keys then told him oh can you hold on someone at my door and left phone of hook for 2 hours, cordless phone glad it kept good charge he couldn’t con anyone else for those 2 hours yessssssssssssss feeling good factor I feel for the eldery something needs to be done. I am fortunate I can block numbers unavailables, and such which is a good step.

PETER B. HARDY says:
9 September 2014

I had a phone call from the “Tech Helpline” yesterday and |I hate to admnit it, I fell for it and paid £129 and gave them remote access to my computer. Having looked at this forum this morning I dread to think what will happen now. I really don’t know how I could have been so stupid. I suppose it was that for a long time the computer had been becoming slow and I had been thinking of trying to find someone who could do something about it and this seemed to be the answer.

Anthony Kaye says:
2 October 2014

Peter: there’s all sort of info online, especially on the Windows help site, which will help you speed up a computer.
They all slow down as more and more apps, info etc are piled in. I’m trying to follow the Windows’ advice just now.
It’s a steep learning curve for the acomputerate though (me!)

b nichols says:
30 September 2014

Managed to keep a supervisor busy for about half an hour. Great fun. Said he worked for http://www.thetechhelpline,co.uk , I called the number and verified that he worked for the company. He tried to get me to allow him in to my computer logmein123.com. We left it at that. They did my mother for nearly £300 on a new laptop! Love wasting their time.

[This comment has been edited to align with our community guidelines. Thanks, mods]

PETER B. HARDY says:
2 October 2014

Thanks for the two posts above. There is an addendum to what I posted on 9th September – by acting quickly and ringing the bank as soon as I had read this thread and learnt the truth about the “tech helpline” I managed to stop the payment going out of my bank. Of course I received a phone call from the “tech helpline” complaining, but I told him what to do…

I keep telling them I don’t have a computer.

They get quite abusive and have called me a liar. Can’t think why !!!

Annie says:
19 October 2014

They caught me at a vulnerable moment only this week. I have been worried sick once I was told I’d been scammed. My laptop is painfully slow and stupidly I fell for it. I thought I knew better than that and have become a sleepless nervous wreck since!

I do Internet banking. I paid them on credit card and the moment I knew my mistake I put a stop on the payment and immediately cancelled my card and requested a new one. I also changed my iPhone and iPad passcode and my email and Facebook passwords.
Do I need to change my wifi password? I’m currently using my iPad and shut down the laptop and plan to get it cleaned.
Am I safe now or is there any more I should do?

Peter B. Hardy says:
19 October 2014

From what happened in my case, I would say you have done enough and are fairly safe. I didn’t do any more than you have done, and the only thing that happened was that I received an angry telephone call the next day from someone in India moaning that when he tried to claim the payment from my bank it had been denied. I told him that I had discovered the truth about his “company”; he did not seem willing to listen to my reasons and made out that he had provided a perfectly satisfactory service; I then said “It says in your terms and conditions that I can cancel within fourteen days and have a full refund AND THAT IS WHAT I AM DOING! and slammed the phone down. It rang again a few minutes later and I ignored it.