[AI] Britons targeted by cold callers pretending to be from Microsoft

Adhimoolam Vetrivel Murugan vadhimoolam at gmail.com
Mon Jul 19 16:04:54 EDT 2010

Britons targeted by cold callers pretending to be from Microsoft
phoning to fix a fake computer problem

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Comments (...) Charles Arthur guardian.co.uk, Sunday 18 July 2010 20.48
BST  larger | smaller Article history Hand holding telephone receiver.
Photograph: Corbis
The scam always starts the same way: the phone rings at someone's
home, and the caller - usually with an Indian accent - asks for the
householder, quoting their name and address before saying "I'm calling
for Microsoft. We've had a report from your internet service provider
of serious virus problems from your computer."

Dire forecasts are made that if the problem is not solved, the
computer will become unusable.

The puzzled owner is then directed to their computer, and asked to
open a program called "Windows Event Viewer". Its contents are, to the
average user, worrying: they look like a long list of errors, some
labelled "critical". "Yes, that's it," says the caller. "Now let me
guide you through the steps to fixing it."

The computer owner is directed to a website and told to download a
program that hands over remote control of the computer, and the caller
"installs" various "fixes" for the problem. And then it's time to pay
a fee: £185 for a "subscription" to the "preventative service".

The only catch: there was never anything wrong with the computer, the
caller is not working for Microsoft or the internet service provider,
and the owner has given a complete stranger access to every piece of
data on their machine.

An investigation by the Guardian has established that this scam, which
has been going on quietly since 2008 but has abruptly grown in scale
this year, is being run from call centres based in Kolkata, by teams
believed to have access to sales databases from computer and software

Matt, a Londoner who has recently set up his own company, had just
arrived home at 7pm when the phone rang and someone with an Indian
accent asked for him by name, quoting his address. "It's Windows tech
support here," said the caller. "We have reason to believe that
there's a problem with your computer. There have been downloads of
malware and spyware, and they're slowing down your computer."

He went along with the caller's demands to log into a website and
enter a six-digit code into his computer. "I thought it was a new
service from [Microsoft] Windows," he said. "I could see them moving
the cursor about. It took about half an hour."

The caller could not have obtained Matt's name via HP or PC World,
where he bought the machine, because he gave his business address, not
his home address, during the purchase.

This suggests that the caller was using the phonebook to find names.
Patrick McCarthy, who lives in Dublin, received a call from one of the
companies - but they addressed him by the name of the apartment block
where he lives instead of his own name, a longstanding error in the
Irish phone book.

Often, the victims are inexperienced or elderly, convinced by the
apparent authority of the callers and the worrying contents of the
Event Viewer. In fact, such "errors" are not indicative of any

Investigators who have spoken to the Guardian on condition of
anonymity say that one man, based in the city of Kota in Rajasthan, is
behind the centres running the scams.

He has provided fake documentation to a number of payment companies
including PayPal and Alertpay, a Montreal-based online payment
company, to set up accounts which route money to a bank account in
Kota with Axis Bank.

Though people on dozens of web forums have recorded their experiences
with the scammers, police and trading standards officers in the UK are
powerless to stop them.

UK telephone numbers for contacting the company on the sites are not
"geographical" - tied to a location - but instead allocated to
voice-over-internet providers.

That means that the calls connect internationally, but cost the
scammers almost nothing when anyone calls them.

In the same way, it costs them virtually nothing to make the calls
because the international part of the call goes via the internet.

If the payment has been made on a debit card - as many are - there is
no hope of reversing the payment. A number of payment organisations
used by the scammers have shut down their accounts. PayPal, the
eBay-owned credit transfer company, and AlertPay have both taken rapid
action against scam sites which used them.

In March, site hosting company Hostgator shut down one of the
longest-running sites used for the alleged scam, F1Compstepuk.com,
after complaints.

After confirming with Microsoft that the site was not acting for it,
Hostgator immediately shut it down. Josh Loe, Hostgator's co-founder,
said that following the initial complaint, "we asked for more
information regarding this to confirm. We received a message from a
Microsoft representative via this particular person who contacted us
first about this. At that time it was enough evidence to close the
site and it was done so the same day."

But one investigator who has been tracking the growth of the scam says
the challenge is that new sites offering the same fake "service" keep
popping up "like mushrooms".

At first the scammers tried desperately to maintain the reputation of
their sites, by flooding any forum which garnered enough criticism of
their activities with postings claiming that the site helped fix their

But the poor spelling and grammar of the replies - allied to internet
addresses which show that the commenters are based in India -
contrasted sharply with that of people in the UK, US and Australia
complaining about the attempted scam.

Now they have shifted to creating multiple sites from templates, using
stock phrases and photos. However, investigators are sure that the
same man - and central operation - is behind all of the schemes. "I
don't think that this could really have spread that far. Even if they
can see that some of their friends are making money from this, the
calls are too similar every time," said one. "It's got to be the same
organisation each time."

Microsoft denies any connection with the companies that call people up
offering these services.

When contacted about the scams, Microsoft said it was "currently
investigating a series of instances in which the business practices of
an organisation within the Microsoft Partner Network [that] have given
rise to significant concerns from a number of sources. We take matters
such as these extremely seriously and will take any action that is
appropriate once our investigation is complete."

Three weeks after being contacted by the Guardian, it issued another
statement: "We confirm that we have taken action to terminate our
relationship with certain partners who are clearly misrepresenting
their relationship with us and using our company name in order to
facilitate their telephone scam operations."

However, this week, two sites alleged to be involved were still listed
as "Microsoft Gold Certified Partners", which Microsoft says means
that they must have "demonstrated expertise" and "must employ a
minimum number of Microsoft Certified Professionals".

The company has noticed the problem. "Microsoft does not make
unsolicited phone calls to help you fix your computer," it says on its

"If you receive an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be from
Microsoft Tech Support, hang up. We do not make these kinds of calls."
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