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How to avoid the Microsoft phone scam

Published 30 August 2015 by

We all get them – cold calls congratulating you on a prize won, or asking you whether you’d like to invest in this or that – but what if you were called by someone claiming to be from a legitimate company like Microsoft? Would you recognise this as a scam? To make sure that you do, we’ll walk you through what you need to look out for in this guide.

What exactly is the scam?

The victim is usually called by phone and told that there is a problem with their computer. The person on the other end of the line often claims to be working for Microsoft or other organisations like BT or TalkTalk. They tell you that they have identified a virus on your computer and offer to fix this for a fee (note that someone working for such organisations wouldn’t be able to tell that your PC is infected even if it really was).

At this point, if the victim agrees to give the fraudster access to their computer they will be talked through a logon process that will give the scammer on the phone remote access to the victim’s computer. Once remote access is given, the victim will see the mouse move on their computer and changes being made to the display. Fraudsters often go about deleting files and installing new programs, to appear as though they are fixing the perceived problem. Be aware that some crooks will try to get you to download malware (malicious software) onto your computer instead of giving them remote access.

Once the “changes have been made”, a fee will be demanded, and this can be anything between £100 and £300 according to Action Fraud. But it’s not uncommon for additional larger payments to be taken out of the victim’s account at a later date, without their permission.

But it doesn’t stop there. In some cases, the programs installed onto a victim’s computer allows the criminal to have unlimited remote access to it. This means they’ll be able to pick up personal information and view online transactions that the victim makes, and even use the webcam to watch victims.

What to remember

• A legitimate company like Microsoft won’t ever call you in this way, so be highly suspicious of any cold calls that you receive.

• Never give remote access to your computer to someone who called you out of the blue.

• Hang up on phone calls that are uninvited.

• Never give out any of your personal information, such as passwords or PINs over the phone.

• If the person on the other end of the line gets aggressive, hang up immediately.

Has this happened to you?

If you think that you’ve been a victim of this type of scam, don’t panic. Just make sure that you do the following:

• Switch off internet access to the affected computer – this will prevent any remote access.

• Take your computer to a reputable company and get it checked for any program or software that could have been installed via remote access.

• Run a scan on your computer with security software (e.g. antivirus), and make sure that your antivirus is up-to-date and still protecting your computer.

• Get in contact with your bank and explain to them what happened, they should be able to stop any further payments from being taken out.

• Change all of your passwords using another computer (or change them after your computer has been cleaned, otherwise the scammer might be able to steal the changed passwords too).

And lastly, spread the word of this scam to all of your family and friends. We know it might be a little embarrassing to admit that you were duped, but telling them could prevent them from going through the same thing – so give them a heads up or alternatively share this blog with them!