back to article Global action takes down tech support scam

Australian, US and Canadian authorities have jointly proclaimed a victory over scammers who call punters and offer unsolicited and unnecessary tech support. The scam has been running for years and involves a call from someone claiming to be an employee of Microsoft or another tech titan. If you answer, the caller explains that …


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  1. jake Silver badge

    Hopefully that'll put an end to it ...

    ... but I doubt it. TheGreatUnwashed[tm] are ineducable.

    Personally, I've been having fun leading these idiots on, sometimes for up to an hour, posing as a "clueless" user of RedmondWare ... all the while on another line to the authorities. I didn't volunteer, I was asked to help after reporting the scam to friends in low places ... For some strange reason, my land-line has been near the top of their list for around seven years :-)

    1. Mike Bell

      Re: Hopefully that'll put an end to it ...

      Yeah, it's great fun leading these chancers on.

      Last time this happened to me, I wasn't feeling particularly imaginative and simply answered "yes" to every question that was put to me by some guy with a strong Indian accent. It took him several minutes to figure out what was going on and eventually vented his frustration by announcing that I was a "dirty dog".

      Woof woof! That one cut me to the quick.

      1. LaeMing

        As they say...

        Telemarketers [or in this case scammers]:

        The prank call that calls you.

    2. RICHTO

      Re: Hopefully that'll put an end to it ...

      "TheGreatUnwashed[tm] are ineducable."

      They seem to be quite capable of reading from crib sheets to try and sell these crappy rip offs. I get called by various third world accents...

    3. Paul 129

      Re: Hopefully that'll put an end to it ...

      I have a client ('luser') who led them on for two days! She had fallen for the scam hook line and sinker. She was on dial-up and had refused to move to broadband. That fact, and that she really, needed hand holding, to operate her computer, had them going. She finally called me in to help them get access, and I explained the scam. She's a really nice person so was stunned that there were people like that. It make me laugh, they couldn't cope with my clients....(and good on her she hadn't paid, they only just managed to get her to the event log)

      Mind you, if she has a computer problem, inhale the little book of calm before attending.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hopefully that'll put an end to it ...

      It didn't put an end to it. I had a call on Friday here in Aus.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As long as telcos sell the numbers it will continue

    I found an easy way to deal with all of these.

    While I was on a BT line I continued getting calls to the point where I had to implement special filtering rules in asterisk. This was _DESPITE_ being listed in their do not call preferences, etc.

    I moved off BT to sipgate a few years ago and calls stopped (despite not being listed in any preference list).

    I do not believe in coincidences and this one does not look like one :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: As long as telcos sell the numbers it will continue

      That reminds me of when I got my current mobile number. I bought a contract phone from Vodafone and literally within 3 hours of the phone arriving British Gas were ringing. They knew my number before I did.

  3. -tim

    I wish I had read this earlier

    If I had seen this news sooner today so I could have told the caller from "Microsoft" that their scamming operation had been shut down.

    Phone number plans need to be more sparse so that people can't war dial everyone. I would like about 10 extra digits in my home number. No one I want to talk to would have any problem with extra digits.

  4. Dr Black Adder

    Too bad I received another 'tech support' call today.....

    One player gone, another bunch taking up the business......

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What exactly is the crime?

    I'm glad to see that at least some countries are on the ball about this, but I wonder what crime these scammers have been taken down for.

    Is it for ignoring the 'Do Not Call' register or is it for some aspect(s) of the scam?

    Reason for asking : there are plenty of similarly-structured scams that are being operated in the UK with no hint of action except maybe through Trading Standards.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: What exactly is the crime?


    2. Steve Renouf

      Re: What exactly is the crime?

      Maybe it was something to do with this bit:

      "One remote desktop session and hefty credit card charge later – some charge up to US$450 for the service - the scammer either does nothing whatsoever or installs free anti-virus software."

      Sometimes it pays to actually read the article... ;-)

      1. Andy Moreton

        Re: What exactly is the crime?

        So is it a crime to charge for free software? I don't think it is. Not defending these people just interested to know what the charges would be.

        1. Da Weezil

          Re: What exactly is the crime?

          Its the misrepresentation that is the offence. - I wouldn't have thought that was hard to grasp.

          "You have a virus/malware/etc" That is without the representation that "I am calling from Microsoft"

          From a UK perspective they are obtaining by deception - which could be a police matter, otherwise they are committing misrepresentation offences which is a trading standards matter. All of the above are offences for which a criminal court appearance is the natural conclusion.

          My macbook owning partner toyed with one of these jerks for close on an hour one night.. "downloading some remote assistance software" - well he did explain we are on one of the islands of Scotland so we have a really slow dial up connection, the sap waited and waited and then when he asked you to open internet explorer and my partner said "I dont have that" I think the penny started to drop, and when the question "how do you look at web pages?" was answered with safari... his attitude changed and he became quite irate. He said "thanks for wasting my time" to which my partner replied with a cherry "you're welcome" as the caller hung up.

          Well its a fun way to pass an otherwise uneventful evening

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What exactly is the crime?

        @Steve Renouf

        I did read the article and if it's for 'charging for something that wasn't installed', then there is clear fraud. If they charged for something which was freely available then they are guilty of sharp business practice only.

        My point is that these people and the multitude of similar scammers are running free in the UK and many of them seem to be operating just short of fraudulent behaviour. They are still operating scams that are bothering a lot of people.

        So I ask again : what line did these particular scammers cross to enable the law to take them out?

        1. Rob

          Re: What exactly is the crime?

          Sorry to be pedantic "If they charged for something which was freely available then they are guilty of sharp business practice only." Most free software usually comes with a license to say it can't be sold on, in those cases that would also be fraud, but it does come down to how the person says it/sells it on the phone. Worst case scenario they will always have breached the Sales of Goods and Services Act.

        2. Ian Bremner

          Re: What exactly is the crime?

          the issue is that they don't actually say the work is chargeable until after they are done installing free software (And malware sometimes too) then they try to hit you for charges in the £100's of pounds. I have had to deal with the aftereffects of these people myself. they are also misrepresenting themselves by saying they are calling on behalf of Microsoft\Virgin etc.

          Best laugh I got was when one of these numpties called my boss to say he was calling on behalf of Virgin. He was a bit taken aback when he found out he was calling the manager of one fo Virgins tech support teams who proceeded to rip him a new waste orifice.

      3. Thorne

        Re: What exactly is the crime?

        "One remote desktop session and hefty credit card charge later "

        The real question is what did they do while remotely logged in?

    3. DrXym Silver badge

      Re: What exactly is the crime?

      Most countries have wire fraud laws and I expect it qualifies as such for a variety of reasons, e.g. misrepresentation of identify, dishonest representation of services etc.

    4. RICHTO

      Re: What exactly is the crime?

      Obtaining money by deception contrary to the Theft Act 1968...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What exactly is the crime?

        Ok, 'obtaining money by deception' works for me as a likely charge. It isn't apparent in the reports that that is what they've been done for, but it'll do.

    5. Black Betty

      Re: What exactly is the crime?

      Swindling if you're lucky. Keyloggers, trojans, zombification, ransomware, you name it. Anything you might pick up surfing on the shadier side of the internet, but worse since clueless luser lets the black hat in on his side of whatever security he might have.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Short conversation

    "You know that person who said you'd never amount to anything? Seems they were right."

    1. Graham Marsden

      Re: Short conversation

      I prefer "Does your mother know what you do for a living? Do you think she'd be proud of the way her son/ daughter makes money as a scammer and a con-merchant trying to rip off people... <click> Hello...?!"

      1. Thorne

        Re: Short conversation

        Even shorter "But I have an Apple"

        Works even faster

  7. DrXym Silver badge

    I'd be tempted to just waste their time

    String them along as if you're the most incompetent clueless support call operator's nightmare and then finally put them on hold for 15 minutes while you go to change a battery in the mouse or something. Assuming they're still there just proclaim the computer is asking for a username and password and you don't know what to type because it's not your computer.

  8. Ian 62

    So how come BT arent interested when I complain?

    So Oz, US and Canada got together and did something about it.

    When I complained about my last call to the BT abuse number all I got was:

    'Sorry nothing we can do about it, but did you wind them up while they were on the phone?'

    Which I ALWAYS do, but they don't even seem to notice when you troll them. Maybe its a culture thing?

    1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

      Re: So how come BT arent interested when I complain?

      Based on something different I received it's because the feckers were using hacked VOIP servers.

      These 'scams' are quite nice compared to the one that targetted my parents house (just so happened it was me answering the phone though).

      They ring and ask some questions, you tell them to go away

      They ring back, again and again and again

      Which in itself is fine, except that they get more abusive as time goes along. When I answered in a high pitched voice they asked what I was wearing, and told me they wanted to fuck me and my daughter (not that I have one mind), describing in detail what they were thinking about doing.

      From what I gather the aim is to wear you down until you break and say "what will it take to get you to fuck off" at which point they helpfully take some banking details or a card-number to pay the 'administrative' fee to be removed from their list.

      Of course, simply taking the phone off the hook for an hour or two is quite effective too.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So how come BT arent interested when I complain?

        Cross connecting them with a phone sex line is comedy gold :-)

  9. Andy Pullin

    Aren't most of these in India, though?

    The one I had certainly was, I strung her along for a few minutes by acting dumb, then when she asked me to click on "start" I told her I was running Linux Mint. She then asked what I used to get on the Internet, I said Linux Mint, she said "No, that runs in Windows", at which point I had to hang up as I was laughing so much.

  10. JaitcH

    Bunch of civil servants with long arms ...

    patting themselves on the back.

    The Canadian CRTC (Canadian Radio and Television Commission) are totally ineffective and likely only reacted when someone handed the goods to them on a plate.

    At least the American government bites ... hard.

  11. Tim Worstal

    Had one last week

    To my phone in Portugal.

    "I'm calling from Microsoft headquarters in Los Angeles"

    "Microsoft is in Redmond. Fuck off".

    Hadn't realised it was a long running thing though.....

  12. Anonymous Coward

    I expected a bit more...

    Its a good thing that these guys are being taken care of; they deserve everything they get IMO because they make us technies as a whole look bad IMO. I mean; someone who got swindled (which is the real crime, though I could bet more charges can be found such as obtaining illegal access to the computer) is most likely not to trust tech support that often. So basically they're damaging our reputation in some way.

    However... I would have expected a little more coming from the bigger companies. A little more effort to raise some kind of awareness. I know you can't easily target these potential "scam targets" because as (assumingly) non-technies thats kinda hard. You can't expect companies like MS to start billion dollar advertisement campaigns merely to warn people.

    But they could have tried more to raise awareness amongst their known customers. For example; sent everyone with an hotmail ('outlook') address an e-mail about this. Either I missed it or it didn't happen.

    I do think its an outstanding job that media such as El Reg spend plenty of attention on all this. While we may know better not to fall for tricks like this; what about your neighbour? It was a good opportunity to raise awareness in your direct surroundings, which I did.

  13. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    I usually just tell them to go away, as what they're doing is fraud. I've talked to a few of them, and they all seem to know they're fraudsters, it's not like they're just going off a script, then handing over the hot leads to the actual fraudster to do the naughty bits.

    My brother tends to lead them on. So he's done the click on this, click on that, oh sorry that doesn't work I'm using Linux gambit.

    The other day though he was all polite for a bit, then suddenly launched an attack on the guy for lying. "You started the call with a lie, you're not from Microsoft, and your name's not John, you're calling from India" etc. Got our poor little thieving bugger so annoyed that he said, "fuck off you fucking paki" and hung up. My brother does have a talent for annoying people...

    Surely there must be an Indian insulting name for English people to use, given that we 'borrowed' their country for a few hundred years...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      as in "phone-wallah", "scam-wallah", "keyboard-wallah".

      you could also ask them to wait a minute while you put down your beefburger with bacon (covers two possible religious sensitivites)

      I think one day, I'll try asking them what their mother would think if they knew what their boy was doing...

      1. Reg Blank

        @ AC

        "I think one day, I'll try asking them what their mother would think if they knew what their boy was doing..."

        I did that!

        This was after a particular strong calling offensive where I was getting several calls per week. I'd gotten calls, my Mum had gotten calls (she had been coached to say no MS products!), my brother had gotten calls. I'd done the stringing them along (wasting their time costs them money), or if I was busy I would say there are no computers running Microsoft products and hang up, but then my fuse blew.

        I started off with asking the female caller what their "error reports" had said, then what product was reporting errors, then asking who she was again. I was getting tired of it by this point, so I went on the offensive.

        "Did you know what you are doing is illegal under Australian law?", no,

        "I know you are not a representative of Microsoft as I don't have any Microsoft products, which means that you have deceptively being trying to gain access my computer systems for the purposes of fraud, a criminal offence." That isn't true, we...

        "At this point I should inform you that I have been recording this conversation and will later be turning it over to the police for investigation and prosecution." That is not...

        "What would your mother think of you being involved in criminal activity?" ...*silence*...

        "Do you think she would be proud of you, raising a criminal?" There is no criminal activity, sir, we are *click*

        The call ended mid-word, so my thought was that there was someone else monitoring the call and they ended it, because I can't see the female caller ending it mid-word like that.

        Maybe it was a coincidence but I stopped getting calls from "Microsoft" shortly after that. Now we've been getting calls regarding solar panels, and the accents aren't Indian any more but from my inexpert ear they are perhaps Thai.

  14. Dr Paul Taylor

    Nuisance calls in general

    This is good news, though, like pulling up weeds, there will be new ones tomorrow.

    However, the underlying problem with scams like this and other nuisance callers is that there is apparently no way of tracing telephone calls. When I tried complaining to BT or C+W they said they couldn't do anything about it but I didn't believe them. After BT demonstrated their inability to fix a simple exchange fault, I joined ICUK and am on first-name terms with them. They too say that there is nothing they can do and are pestered by the same things themselves. Presumably they're just too small to have the clout to do anything about it. On the other hand, I am quite sure that the Police would be able to trace the calls, if they wanted to.

    Yet it seems to have been accepted that "email is not secure" (although El Reg readers know how to trace it) but phones are. So we have banks phoning customers, without even caller ID, and asking them their "security questions", whilst telling people not to do exactly that with email.

  15. Chris Gray 1
    Thumb Up

    "Windows Technical Support"

    See title - that's what they usually called themselves (I'm in Canada). It sometimes got so bad that I was getting multiple calls per day. I'm glad they have been slowed down, at least for a bit.

    I've never had the patience to string them along - got things to do, don't 'cha know!

    1. Graham Marsden

      Re: "Windows Technical Support"

      It's easy to string them along without wasting your own time, just tell them "Ok,I'll go and boot up the computer..." (wait a couple of minutes whilst you get on with answering e-mails, browsing, reading etc) then "sorry, it's taking a while" (wait another couple of minutes) "ok it's not booting properly, maybe you're right, let me reboot (wait three minutes...)"

      Just increase the length of time between your responses and eventually they'll go away, but you've not wasted more than about 30 seconds of your own time :-)

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Had one last week for Mr Smith (who died in 2000)

    I think next week I'll actually get round to hooking up that cheap cordless I bought to the outlet downstairs, just to fuck with them while I'm facetarding and whatnot.

  17. Chris Gray 1

    Gah! - still not gone

    Annoyingly, I had just checked the comments here again, and went to send an email, when the phone rings. They're still out there. Different name. The first guy's accent was so bad that I couldn't really understand what he wanted. He was looking for the Windows key on the keyboard. Well, my keyboard is an old USB Sun keyboard, and so I suggested I try the key with the diamond on it. He passed me off to his supervisor at that point. The supervisor wanted me to find the key with the "four flags" on it. I told him it didn't have one, and mentioned Sun again. I had already told the other guy that I am running Linux, but I don't think he understood the concept. :-)

    Mr. supervisor thanked me and hung up. That's about the best I have the patience for. :-)

  18. MrZoolook
    Paris Hilton

    Some people won't be told.

    Someone I know fell for this and set up a direct debit for ongoing support. When I found out, I told him it was a scam only for him to say that he checked it all out, rang up Microsoft directly and they confirmed it was legit etc. Fast forward a few months and when I mentioned it in passing, he tells me he just cancelled the DD because they didn't seem to be doing anything more since that first support session...

    Paris because she needs support...

  19. Winkypop Silver badge

    They can get very narky

    I told one that they were a scammer.

    They said they weren't.

    I said I knew they were.

    They said, why do you say that?

    I said it's being discussed all over the Internet.

    They hung up after calling me names...


  20. James 100

    Glad to hear some action being taken - I just wish the telcos would be more proactive about terminating these nuisance callers. Not just overseas, though; I've had several silent calls from a *local* company in recent weeks, peddling some renewable energy nonsense. Apparently TPS registration isn't enough to stop the "energy" phone-spammers, and Ofcom don't care enough to unplug the silent callers however persistent.

  21. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Front location....

    Registered Office location: 3rd floor, 207 Regent Street, London.

    Uh huh:

    Friends to scammers worldwide, it would appear.

  22. Richard Freeman


    this part doesn't ring true:

    "Australia is claiming credit for the bust, with ACMA saying it received complaints from Australians listed on the Do Not Call register that prohibits unsolicited telemarketing calls. As it investigated those complaints,"

    last time I contacted these (expletive) (expletive)s to complain about an unsolicited obvious scam call that I received they made it clear that they weren't in the slightest bit interested in my complaint and then proceeded to lecture me on the inadvisability of 'investing' with people I didn't know making offers of unbelievable returns (not sure why they thought I would ring to make a complaint if I were that gullible).

  23. enerider

    "Error - the command completed successfully"

    I already had my tussels with these idiots.

    Strung them along as had others, even running the whole gambit through a handy VM I set up while on the call "Oh my PC BSOD'd hang on...",

    Ever since I moved to a VoIP provider (still the same number), I not only get caller ID and a bunch of other stuff cheaper - the calls never quite seem to connect. I answer, but there is a long silence and then a hang up.

    Meanwhile the calls that matter get through just fine.

    So to whomever at 2Talk - I thank you for your fine filtering of scumbags and endorse your product as a contented user.

  24. Maty

    The phone has no constitutional right to be answered.

    Almost a year ago I got so tired of crap calls - usually during dinner or some equally inconvenient time - that I cancelled my land-line and got a mobe. Which I turned off.

    I turn on when I need to use it (or call via Skype, which is cheaper). If people want to get in touch with me, they can use email and it will be dealt with when convenient. I mean how often is it essential for anyone to speak with you RIGHT NOW?

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