/ Technology

Your view: will we ever get rid of ‘Microsoft’ scam calls?

Toy telephone

Once again, mention of the ‘Microsoft’ scam call got you all talking this week. From funny ways to waste the scammers’ time, to deciding who should deal with this problem, we round up your responses.

In his Convo, Rich Parris talks about the sheer scale of this scam call, where supposed Microsoft support staff call you about ‘problems’ with your computer.

According to figures from Microsoft, one in five Brits have received one of these scam calls since 2010, losing an average of £745. That’s not to be sniffed at.

So who’s responsible for stamping out scammers?

This was a hot topic of debate, and different commenters had different outlooks. John Ward feels that crime prevention agencies and Microsoft should be doing their bit:

‘We must look to the crime prevention agencies to protect us from these deceptions; they should not be sheltering behind the IT industry and dragging their heels on enforcement across international boundaries. But it is only right that Microsoft should exercise more responsibility in developing systems and protocols…’

Colin is a Microsoft Certified IT technician and he argues that Microsoft isn’t to blame:

‘This is not a Microsoft issue, the callers could be calling saying they were from Apple and try something similar. The problem is people are being talked into buying computers which often they don’t need or don’t know anything about and then through lack of knowledge, fall for this scam.’

What needs to be done?

Commenter e420303639 makes a popular suggestion about one way to help combat the scam:

‘It might help if Microsoft stated on their software quite clearly that they will not call the user at any time, unless the user has arranged this with Microsoft.’

For William, it’s a government issue:

‘Surely the UK government should be talking to the Indian government as that’s where the calls seem to originate.’

Dealing with scammers

Many of you, it seems, have thought long and hard about the best way to waste the scammers’ time, like NFH, who is our Commenter of the Week:

‘I pretend to be a novice PC user and deliberately make myself sound like a technophobe. I follow their instructions and […] every few minutes, I manually make my mobile phone ring, and ask them to hold while I take the call. I mute the scammer while I do this, letting them hold for five or 10 minutes. While they’re on hold, I get on with other things so they don’t waste my time.’

Tulip Bicycle enjoys winding them up:

‘I usually answer the phone with the Spanish “Hola”, and if they don’t hang up and start the spiel I tell them that this is the Truro Sexual Health Clinic, which quickly gets rid of them.’

And Hoppingpinkrabbit has a ‘novel’ idea:

‘Reciting parts of the Bible to them can shut them up. You don’t need to explain to them the meaning behind it, just reciting parts and without stopping. Similar goes for kids’ books – if you ever wanted to experiment with using different ‘voices’, here is your chance!’

And finally…

We couldn’t finish without retelling Steve Ellis’s scammer experience:

‘On one occasion I asked the scammer if he thought I was born yesterday… he actually asked me for my date of birth. Unbelievable.’

Have you got a ridiculous scammer story to beat Steve’s? Or maybe you have your own unusual methods of dealing with these calls? On a more serious note, how did you deal with the scam if you fell for it and lost money?

wev says:
25 May 2013

And… has anyone written to their MP about it?

Even something as simple as stopping the sale of the public electoral register to advertisers would cut down the amount of scams.

Yes. He was entirely useless, I got a more or less circular letter back from the relevant department.

wev says:
2 June 2013

What did it say?

Can’t remember exactly, but it was basically an apologia for doing nothing about scam texts and calls (i.e. telling me about the ineffective things that don’t stop them).

You have the option to have most of your personal information excluded from the Public Electoral Register. My telephone number is not in the public register and that may be why I receive very little nuisance calls or scam calls.

Each and every ISP should make their customers aware of scams like the Microsoft one.

Families of older people should tell them about the scam emails that warn about security problems on such and such bank account and try to get you to use the link in the email to log into the account. Once a month I receive a scam email, supposedly from Talk Talk (my ISP) telling me there is a problem with my account and providing a link so I can log into my account. Now, if they gain access to my account they get my bank details and the telephone numbers of all my contacts – all useful information for scammers. I have never opened any of these emails but I hear that if you use the link supplied, you go to a facsimile of the real website.

Scammers are getting cleverer each day and as the phone scammers are shut down, more of them will be turning to the internet. We must remain alert and spread the word of any new scams.

I use 20 character cryptic passwords, different ones for each site, and keep them in a secure key database that is not available online. Of course if they could get to my email they could send password resets, so my mail has two-factor authentication. They need my username, my password, my mobile phone, and the PIN that locks the phone.

Not infallible, but decent basic safety.

It seems to me that a lot of these calls are international, and the calling line ID is inaccurate. So first up we need to get the telcos to ensure that incoming international calls are properly identified.

Also, with computer malware you can report exploits to the likes of Sophos, McAfee and so on, and they share information. In the same way, there needs to be collaboration between operators on identifying and blocking the lines that make these scam calls.

It would also help if telecom operators routinely and proactively offered retired subscribers, free of charge, anonymous barring and caller ID, and gave basic advice on how to use these to screen nuisance calls. And of course telemarketing permission should switch form opt-out to opt-in. I do not know anyone who actually wants to receive cold calls by telephone, so this might be a bit contentious, but the fact is that every single cold call I have ever received has been deceptive in its framing. The industry is corrupt at its core and needs to be given a sizeable kick up its collective posterior.

Example: even though I am on the TPS list I get calls form UK registered numbers telling me they “know” how much I am owed in compensation for income protection policies. So do I: none at all. I never take them out, they are an obvious con! These numbers are all listed on the websites discussing nuisance calls, I block each one in turn using my brilliant Panasonic phone with number blocking, and they just come back on another number. These numbers are well known, used for sustained bouts of fraudulent activity, and should simply be blocked by the carriers.

But the most important thing is a programme of education – ideally paid for by fines on the perpetrators who are caught. TV slots aimed at the target market of the scammers would be a good way to do this.

There are two ways to curtail this problem:
– Educate the public so that they recognise the scammers as easily as they recognise spam e-mail.
– Potential victims can make the practice undesirable for the scammers, either by wasting considerable amounts of their time (as I have done) or by rudely swearing at them so that they find their “job” increasingly unpleasant.

NFH – Not everyone does recognise a spam email. Education certainly has a role but I very much doubt that it is a complete solution. Scammers make their money out of those who are most vulnerable and even careful people can make mistakes.

As a school governor I was circulated a warning about LSD tattoos. Yes, it’s fake. I taught the headteacher about Snopes.

I think critical thinking and basic fact checking should be part of the PSHCE curriculum at every school in the UK. Not until people are taught how to spot the obvious scams will we see any meaningful reduction in the spam promoting them.

lizzy says:
5 June 2013

I would like to share my experience of a scam call, previously I have pretended that I don’t understand what they are calling about, but due to extra stress in my life on the 18/3/13 I was called on my home no by a person saying they were calling from Microsoft, I am so angry with myself for allowing the call to continue and allowing them remote control of my desk top pc. Needless to say when they asked for payment of £325.00 for life time cover I did query why the payment was to a person and not a company the caller said it was his managers name, well I should have disconnected and not continued again due to circumstances I thought they were OK and made the payment through Pay pal, well they were on my pc all day so they said, I was otherwise occupied with an emergency at home so I did not check. I did not use the pc for a few days when I did I found so many faults most of my programmed had been deleted, those that were on were not connecting, I was about to take the pc to PC world when I received my Which magazine and well and behold the scam article covered my experience to a T. I have followed the guide and reported the issue to Acton Fraud, obtained the crime no and passed it on to Pay pal. I need to get this money back and to STOP anymore calls of this nature to me or others. Any chance Which can help?

wev says:
7 June 2013

Have you asked your phone company for the number of the person who called you? It might help a little.

Have you also asked your local police station to give you a leaflet on a victims compensation scheme?

Geoff says:
5 October 2013

I know about the scam because the callers conceal their true phone number behind my landline number, so when people who have been called by the scammers (criminal thieves is a better description) use 1471, they get my number and call me. I have heard tales of woe from these people with amounts of £90.00, £180.00 and £250.00 being paid and computers being left in a shambles. One person, realising they had been cheated, called their credit card company to stop the payment, but it was too late – apparently the funds were sent to somewhere in Baku! I was concerned that my phone number had been used illegally so I contacted Action Fraud. They wrote a nice letter thanking me, while telling me they could do nothing. BT took the same approach, but suggested I changed my phone number which I have had for more than forty years, so no help or useful advice from them either.

I have contacted the CEO of Talk Talk, my ISP, and she replied to say she is ‘getting her marketing team to review the communications we already have in place to help customers avoid and report phishing scams’. Now, I will be asking her to do more as so many people are still getting caught by the scams.

Anybody willing to contact BT, if they are your ISP?

Patrick, when will Which? be sending out the warnings on scams and phishing?

Another plug here for Snopes. It is a great place to check anything that arrives which looks a bit suspect.

A document with the red flags for phishing would be good, though – one my mum can understand.

Top of the list is any spelling error!

John says:
13 June 2013

I tell them my Operating System is a Digital Offline Online Runtime System. Or DOORS for short. When they sound perplexed I tell them it is the big brother of WINDOWS and I can sell them a DOOR if they give me their bank account number. If they are still on the line I tell them my other computer is Flash Loadable Object Orientated Real-Time or FLOOR for short.If they are still hanging around as one was I tell them that they sound like too much of a beginner to be of any use to me.

I am deeply “involved” in this scam, because the scammers conceal their true phone number behind my UK landline number. As a result, I receive numerous calls from people who have called 1471 after speaking to the scammers and call me. I am happy to explain what has happened and that the callers are criminals, but is frustrating to receive many calls, on a daily basis from these people, many of whom are not experienced computer users. Sadly, some of he callers have fallen for the scam have lost money to these crooks. I contacted the police who can do nothing. I contacted BT whose advice is to change my phone number, which is hardly practicable as I have had it for about forty years and so many people have it that I would lose contact with them. Surely BT can do better than this!

I have a lot of sympathy with your situatiion Geoff. I cannot believe BT cannot deal with this nuisance at source by putting an intercept on your number and blocking calls that have been redirected by 1471. If GCHQ can do this [and more!] then BT certainly can.

Changing the number would deal with your particular issue but it does not give long-term relief from nusiance phone calls and the computer-fix scam calls. We moved house a few months ago and our new number is already attracting unwanted calls – the computer-fix scam was onto our new number very soon after moving. Ideally, BT would change your number free of charge, divert to your new number those that dialled direct, give you “change of number” cards, and pay the postage for notifying all your contacts. Ofcom have got to come up with a scheme that compels the network operators to identify incoming calls from abroad.

john says:
4 July 2013

My record for keeping one of these people on the phone is about 20 minutes. When asked to start the computer I can waste about 5 minutes of their time by claiming it is slow to boot up. Eventually they will attempt to get me to type in a URL and ask what the result is. Of course I don’t type the URL and instead give them a false report (usually telling them about whatever happens to be on my screen anyway). I drove one of them to near madness when he told me to type ‘A for apple’ and I claimed that I’d done exactly that!

geof says:
4 July 2013

The scammers have never contacted me but they are using my landline phone number to conceal their true one. As a result, I receive about twenty calls daily from people who dial 1471 after receiving a call from the scammers and many of them have paid money over to them. It is heartbreaking as when I explain what these criminals have done, they understand that their money has been lost, I reported to the Action Fraud (the police) who wrote to thank me and told me that they know about the fraud – well done them! BT, meanwhile said they cannot help and suggested I change my phone number, which I have had for over forty years. With all the technology at their disposal, that’s all they could offer and we pay for the privilege of using their service. Well done BT, keep it up!


The above is advise from the Microsoft website on avoiding the ‘Microsoft’ phone scam and other scams.

Use the details on the Action Fraud website to report any incidents of fraud. There is also advise about evading the phishers and scammers.

I believe Microsoft and every ISP should send a warning to their customers. You need to be aware of scams before you go looking for relevant information and if you are aware you are less likely to be caught by the criminals aka. phishers and scammers.

Well done to Which? on the very informative and colourful email on avoiding getting caught out by scam emails. Just what we need and a pity the ISP’s do not follow suit. I have tweeted the link to my ISP and tried to copy the details of your email to a topic on scams on their ISP forum but the formatting did not copy.

Well done again in leading the way and showing others how it should be done.

My poor 80 year mum has just had another call, and this time the caller got very aggressive with her. The really sad thing is my mum doesn’t even have a computer.

And yet again there is no return number.

I wonder if we’ll ever get any rigorous action action taken in my lifetime.

sean says:
25 July 2013

The easiest way would be via some hardware/software interface where a list of
1) always authorized callers is allowed, (white listed)
2) always forbidden ie disconnected (black listed)
3) options programmable by the individual.

The forbidden list could be maintained at a network level which individuals could subscribe to once a threat has been identified it is blocked at (rather like anti-virus updates).

Problem is phone companies make money from All calls.

I have a Panasonic phone and my line has caller ID. The phone can be programmed to ignore a number (so after the first nuisance call it gets blacklisted), it can also be programmed only to allow numbers in a certain group to call at night.

My wife bought it when we had a problem with nuisance calls from a stalker. The phone blocked and logged all the calls, and I was able to use this information plus a caller data sheet obtained from 0800 Reverse, to trace the individual via a Norwich Pharmacal Order.

sean says:
26 July 2013

Thanks for that – and it is a practical option given seeming laissez faire inaction at the regulator/network level.

However having known bad numbers to collated centrally and barred/intercepted at a network level could save some more susceptible individuals a lot of anxiety and or worse in case of scams.

I don’t disagree – and actually that really requires OfCom to step up to the plate and do their job, something they show little sign of doing.

Michael Brown says:
27 July 2017

Great idea but we need to move away from the term white listed and black listed. Too much negativity associated with using the adjective black

I got one of these calls about two years ago. The caller said he was MS UK though plainly he wasn’t. After a bit. more questioning he finally admitted he was based at a “Microsoft” affiliated company in Bangalore. I did some further research on this ” company” and passed this on to local trading standards and also to the Indian High Commission to investigate and get it shut down..

Windup1 says:
30 July 2013

Now being retired, I feel that it is my duty, to wind up cold callers for as long as possible, thus diverting them from irritating others with less time to spare.
I measure my success by how long I can keep them on the phone for – often in excess of 20mins before they hang up in despair.
My latest exploit ended with the “Microsoft scam” caller calling me a M****f ***r before he hung up.

Also good fun is to pretend that I think they are selling double glazing and keep asking questions about their products and how the nice man I spoke to yesterday seemed to know much more about double glazing /When they can come to fit them/How my cat love to look at the birds through the windows/and doesn’t the weather seem to be funny just now – :-))

These calls are such a nuisance interrupting my life in my own house whenever it suits them.
As soon as I realise that they are making a scamming call to me, I start to I tell them they are working for a dishonest company who wish to defraud me and that they should get a job with an honest company. Then I put the phone down. I have started my own fight back.

Geoff says:
7 September 2013

Another version is one that happened only yesterday. 6 September 2013. The caller had a cockney accent and said that Sainsbury owed me money “due to a home delivery”. I asked what I should do and he replied that I should go to a branch which I know closed several years ago! It was clear from the fact that he was utterly inarticulate and failed to understand my questions that he was British and very poorly educated. I told him he was a “scammer” and that he should get lost. I then rang off. Thus, the scam is not simply restricted to Microsoft.

Just looking at other members views on unwanted calls I started getting the silent phone calls this week followed by idiots from far away trying to ask allsorts questions I tend to be polite to start with but when they insist on asking questions then they get the hairdryer treatment I am stronge minded but the wife gets intimidated and can not cope I have spoken to BT but they struggle to help what I have noticed is that these calls come in waves I think they keep a suckers list which gets passed around so if like my wife you cant say go away then I am afraid you will be pestered do you think I am right or is it me who got it all wrong.