Microsoft takes on tech support scammers

Scam graphic Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Thousands of people fall victim to tech support scams each year

US software giant Microsoft is suing alleged scammers who phone people pretending to represent the firm and offer bogus technology support.

The callers ask to take over a home computer and demand money to fix it. Some then install viruses as well.

The software company said it had received more than 65,000 complaints about tech support scams since May.

It is taking legal action against several firms it accuses of misusing its name in such cases.

Fake ads

The scam has been around for decades with callers peddling useless security software and tricking people into spending hundreds of pounds (or dollars) to solve non-existent computer problems.

Increasingly, the bogus technicians are gaining access to people's computers remotely.

From there they can also steal personal and financial information and install malware.

In some cases people are tricked into signing up for support via fake web ads. Others receive a direct telephone call from a technician claiming to represent Microsoft.

Microsoft has warned that scammers are likely to be active over the Christmas period.

"The holiday season is a popular time for scammers as more people engage in online activities, including shopping, donating to charity and searching for travel deals," it said.

Older victims

Older people needed to be particularly vigilant, it said.

"Tech support scammers don't discriminate; they will go after anyone, but not surprisingly senior citizens have been among the most vulnerable."

The US Federal Trade Commission filed a legal case in Florida last month against a company that used adverts to scare people into believing their computer had a virus and then sell them allegedly worthless services.

In the UK, National Trading Standards has recently taken legal action against a man from Luton who hired people at an Indian call centre to falsely tell people their computers had a serious problem.

Mohammed Khalid Jamil was given a four-month suspended jail sentence and ordered to pay £5,665 compensation and £13,929 in prosecution costs.

Microsoft has issued tips to help users avoid falling for such scams.

It says:

  • Ask if there is a fee or subscription for the services. If there is, hang up
  • Never give control of your computer to the third party unless you can confirm it is a legitimate representative of a computer support team at a company of which you are already a customer
  • Take the caller's information down and immediately report it to your local authorities
  • Never provide your credit card or financial information to someone claiming to be from Microsoft tech support.

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