Scams, Rogue Traders and Doorstep Crime

Avoiding Computer Support Scams

Devon & Somerset Trading Standards are warning the public to be aware of ongoing attempts by computer fraudsters to scam cash from them by telephoning and claiming to represent Microsoft or other web support companies.  Despite a 2014 prosecution where the defendant was found to have claimed to be from Microsoft hitting the headlines, scammers are still attempting to gain personal details by using this approach.

The caller typically advises the victim that their computer is infected with ‘viruses’, which can be repaired if the caller is given remote access to the machine. Attempts are then made to obtain money from victims, some of whom have lost several hundred pounds at a time for useless ‘software fixes’. Some are also persuaded to download software onto their computers that may cause further damage that the trader will ask for more money to fix.  Some of the traders become aggressive or abusive if the customer does not send them money and threaten to infect their computer further.

The public should be aware that Microsoft never use cold-calling methods to sell their products. These calls are from criminals who are intent on taking victims’ money and gaining access to personal information on computers. It is highly unlikely any company (except perhaps your internet service provider) could know there were problems with your specific PC and would have your contact details.

The strong advice from Devon & Somerset Trading Standards is to immediately hang up if you receive a phone call from anyone claiming that there is a problem with your computer. Likewise you should never allow strangers remote access to your computer or part with personal information that can be used to steal your identity and bank details.

To prevent viruses and other security issues, always use a trusted antivirus program on every computer you own. Some respected antivirus programs are even free for personal use, so everyone really should have one. However, if you are downloading an antivirus program from the internet, make 100% sure that you do so from the official site for that product. Scammers and hackers have been known to create fake sites for downloading antivirus programs purely to infect people’s computers.

There has also been a rise in incidences of ‘ransomware’, which is either installed by a criminal phoning you and getting access to your computer, or by a user accidentally installing a malicious programme that they downloaded from the internet. Ransomware locks your computer and will not allow you access it until a fee is paid – normally with a threat that all data will be destroyed if you don’t. This is normally not an idle threat and can cost hundreds of pounds if you don’t want to lose your computer and everything on it (and even if you pay, there’s no guarantee the criminals will unlock your computer). Be very very wary of anyone who want remote access to your computer, or of any files you have been e-mailed or which you download, unless they have been fully virus checked and you know and trust the source.

Further advice on this or any other Trading Standards matter can be found by contacting the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 040506 or 0208 1850710.

You can find information on many other common scams by clicking here.