back to article Even 'Your computer has a virus' cold-call gits are migrating off XP

Tech support scammers have begun targeting smartphone and tablet users with offers to fix non-existent problems – for exorbitant fees. Cold call scams that attempt to hoodwink marks into paying for useless remote diagnostic and cleanup services have been a popular scam for years. Victims are often encouraged to sign up to …


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  1. jonathanb Silver badge

    Are there no prisons?

    Put a few of these scumbags in jail for a reasonable length of time, and the rest will realise it isn't worth the risk.

    1. Simon Harris

      Re: Are there no prisons?

      I suggest house arrest, with an automated system ringing their phone every 5 minutes with a pointless call.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Are there no prisons?

      They are often in India, good luck getting them into a prison in your country.

      1. Ted Treen

        Re: Are there no prisons?

        A referee's whistle, blown as hard as you can right by the telephone mouthpiece, has proved to a good deterrent to these scum.

        I gather it can be rather excruciating to be on the receiving end...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Are there no prisons?

          Not really, that's why (proper) call centre headsets have acoustic shock protection, to stop idiots* doing this sort of thing.

          * Change the scenario: You are walking in the street and a chugger asks if you'd like to help out with XYZ at which point you punch them in the face. Think you'd get away with that. Thought not.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Are there no prisons?

            Someone needs to hurry up and discover the Brown Note.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Are there no prisons?

            Do you really think the people who own these scamming companies actually have a proper call center? No, everything is done as cheap as possible and the turnover rate is high. Why invest in the employees when you can replace them instantly.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Are there no prisons? Re: AC discussing punching chuggers

            So I shouldn't be claiming tax deductions for "one punch" provided to a wide range of charities via chuggers?

            I thought I was being generous as it seemed to be very popular with people who saw it.

      2. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: Are there no prisons?

        Apparently Indian prisons aren't particularly nice places. Throw them in one of them.

  2. Shrimpling

    They seem to have stopped calling me

    I used to enjoy the sport of seeing how long can I keep them on the phone by not mentioning my laptop is running Linux.

    30 minutes is my record.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: They seem to have stopped calling me

      Another one I heard was to reply:

      "Wow, thanks for calling, I have five hundred PCs in this office, can you help me figure out which one has the virus."

      Then play a game of chase the red herring till they figure out you have none. :P

      1. riverman
        Paris Hilton

        Re: They seem to have stopped calling me

        It was a bad moment when I got one of these calls and I'm afraid that I replied; "Nothing that can't be fixed by ramming my c*** all the way down your t***** and leaving it there." Nice people won't know what this means the call centre guy did.

        Paris because, just because.

        1. Simon Harris

          Re: They seem to have stopped calling me

          I ask them how they know my computer has a virus, and they usually tell me there's some unusual activity from my IP address.

          So I ask them how they tracked down my name and phone number from that, and they usually tell me that they got it from my internet provider.

          So I tell them that unless they can produce the court order they required to get my personal information from the IP provider, either they are lying or the IP company must be acting illegally, and I'm pretty sure it's not the IP company.

          1. Anonymous C0ward

            Re: They seem to have stopped calling me

            And can you read out the message that popped up on your screen please Sir?

            Yeah, it says "(C)1982 Sinclair Research Ltd."

            1. Fatman

              Re: They seem to have stopped calling me

              I have you beat:

              Copyright 1976 Data Technical Analysts

              (or so it said on the old CTIX system I once 'babysat'.)

    2. N2

      Re: They seem to have stopped calling me

      Excellent, Ive said "Ill just go and get it from the attic" & put the phone on the table and left it, dunno how long they waited.

    3. Chris King

      Re: They seem to have stopped calling me

      I had my very first one last week - I decided to try a different tactic. No whistles, no swearing, no delaying tactics, just make them feel very, VERY uncomfortable.

      After arguing with the fellow ("I know you're not from Microsoft, and I have that on good authority from someone quite senior in the company") and trashing his "bona fides" ("So, you've got a bunch of low-end brain dump qualifications and your MCSE isn't even up to date"), I went for the jugular and questioned his integrity...

      "You know, your mother must be so disappointed in you, putting your knowledge and expertise to criminal use. Why don't you just put the phone down, walk out of that call centre and find yourself an HONEST job ?"

      That sent him right over the top, and resulted in a Davros-like tirade. Imagine Spike Milligan or Peter Sellers screaming "Do not anger me, Doctor ! I can destroy you - and this MISERABLE, INSIGNIFICANT PLANET !!!" in a fake Punjabi accent and you get the general idea.

      "Oh, by the way - free clue for you, Skippy !"

      I stuck the phone next to my Mac Mini, and turned it on.



      I was half expecting him to call back, claiming to be from Apple, but I suspected it would take him a while to calm down. The OpenBSD VM running XFCE would be ideal for that call... "No, I've got a little black mouse in the top left-hand corner of my screen, is that wrong ?"

      1. Tom 35

        "You know, your mother must be so disappointed in you"

        That's all it takes most of the time. It is almost sure to cause the Indian call center jerk to explode with 4 letter words.

        If one of them calls to tell me my tablet has a problem I think I'll tell him it's a suppository...

    4. ScottME

      Re: They seem to have stopped calling me

      I've managed to perplex them several times, when they ask me to press Ctrl-R (which on Windows brings up the Run dialog), by insisting, truthfully, that it does nothing on my computer. I don't tell them I'm running Linux. Well, they didn't ask.

  3. Dave 126 Silver badge

    They rang me yesterday. In the past, I've pretended to play along with them for a while, before reporting the call to the National Fraud Hotline (just for their statistics really), but yesterday I just used some loud Anglo-Saxon.

    It isn't the likes of us on this forum who will be taken in, but more the proverbial 'little old lady'.

    1. scub

      I often wonder if the person on the other end of the line has any idea they are part of a scam?

      1. John H Woods


        glad you mentioned that. I have played along with these a number of times to see if I can get any information that would assist in making a report. I have come to the conclusion that a lot of the staff think they are actually working for a legitimate company, and are just as much dupes as their targets.

        I may be wrong, too trusting, etc, but that's how it seems to me - also explains how many of them can be so convincing.

        1. mark 63 Silver badge

          Re: @scub

          " I have come to the conclusion that a lot of the staff think they are actually working for a legitimate company"

          Fascinating idea john - maybe they just have a brief "Ring these customers we have identified have a problem and get them to DL this file, the other dept will logon and fix the issue"

          Surely they'd have to be dumber than the victims though?

          1. Eradicate all BB entrants

            Re: @scub

            The staff know it's a scam, watch some of the older videos when he starts calling them out over it. With one charge being the average monthly wage in India just one mark a day will make the whole team more money than they could ever earn in another job.

            Money is a great motivator, just look at the banks, Libor, PPI and the rest. They knew what they were doing was a scam yet the money was so good they didn't care.

        2. Tom 35

          Re: @scub

          Not a chance. They are scam artists and clearly know what they are doing. No different then pick pockets that also take pride in their skill.

      2. Mark Allread

        That's the impression I've got when I've spoken to them. I don't think the front line people know it's a scam. They're following instructions and training but they don't really understand the tech. They're given 'leads' (which are just random numbers), and they attempt to get a sale. Some of them get really defensive when you tell them they're part of a scam.

      3. mickey mouse the fith

        " I often wonder if the person on the other end of the line has any idea they are part of a scam?"

        Oh, they know. I used to get a lot of these, so used to let em connect to an old pc. I used to put text files named "Bank details" or "confidential" on the desktop, they tried snaffling them every time (good luck using those cc details i generated from one of those fake id generator sites).

        The best way to deal with them is just to waste their time, do the oposite to what they say,`misshear` their instructions, keep typing the wrong logmein pw (they always seem to use logmein), move the mouse constantly as they try and control it, randomly disconnect the wifi and when you get bored, just insult their faith or culture or get frisky with em.

        The sound of a swearing Indian scammer after they just wasted an hour is pure joy.

    2. Rich 11 Silver badge

      It isn't the likes of us on this forum who will be taken in, but more the proverbial 'little old lady'.

      True, though even my mum, at the age of 79, has recognised these callers for what they are and told them what they can go do with themselves.

      I suppose it helps that she doesn't own a computer.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That's the little old ladies... so far the LOLs I know have had a 100% detection rate on this kind of scam. They aren't sure that the caller is genuine, but will always ask the scammer to call back - then ask around within their circle of friends and family (there's sure to be someone who is an IT pro of some sort).

    4. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Little old lady

      ... In fact any members of the public who aren't aware of all this sh*t.

      El Reg, as worthy as it is, doesn't reach the gen public. Sadly the ordinary grown up media don't see this stuff as news.

  4. Ye Gads

    I'm a lumberjack...

    The last time they called me I said "Oh dear, I'm not very technical. I work as a lumberjack. Let me tell you about my job".

    At which point I broke into song. They hung up half-way through the second verse and haven't called back since.

    1. theblackhand

      Re: I'm a lumberjack...

      Everyone's a critic...

      Maybe a YouTube link next time so that we can judge for ourselves? Playmobil reconstruction optional.

  5. Marvin O'Gravel Balloon Face

    How about - "Oh yes, I'm glad you called, it has been running slow lately, just hang on a second and I'll boot it up."

    .. put phone on the worktop, go do something else for half an hour.

  6. Kris Whitmore

    Piano / Computer

    One of my favourite radio comedy shows has a sketch about this where it transpires they are confusing a computer with a piano, "the start key, is that a white one or a black one?" etc. very funny and I'd love to have the wherewithal to use it myself but I don't think I could keep the gag going for long enough!

    1. Justin Stringfellow

      Re: Piano / Computer

      That's a mitchell and webb sketch, from one of their radio series.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I ask the caller to go talk to their boss

    Before we start, please do me a favour.

    Get up from your chair.

    Go into your bosses office and say: "You are a filthy scammer" as loud as you can.

    By the time you come back I will have hung up.


  8. JimmyPage

    For some reason ..

    I have just had an image of someone with 2 phones, a scammer on each line, putting the handsets down with mouthpiece to earpiece, and walking away ....

    1. mickey mouse the fith

      Re: For some reason ..

      I have just had an image of someone with 2 phones, a scammer on each line, putting the handsets down with mouthpiece to earpiece, and walking away ....

      There was a website that did that through voip. People would route the calls to the site, which would in turn connect the scammers to each other.

      I think it was shut down last year for breaking telecommunications laws, pity.

      1. cyborg

        Re: For some reason ..

        > I think it was shut down last year for breaking telecommunications laws

        Yet these fuckers continue unabated?

        Thanks law!

  9. Lee D

    I work in schools. Teachers fall for it all the time.

    I wash my hands of it. If they are that stupid, that's their problem to fix. Inside work, they shouldn't have enough permission and/or flexibility in the policies to even allow them to do anything like this.

    If someone knocked on your door and they told you that the car on your driveway needed fixing and they could fix it for "just" £50, you'd do exactly what you are supposed to. Say thank you. Shut the door. Call your garage to see if they share the same opinion. You wouldn't pay the guy who reported it to you, or any stooge that he could arrange for you. And you certainly wouldn't do it there-and-then without checking.

    And the whole "I'm from Microsoft" kind of junk? If some bloke knocked on your door claiming to be from Ford and that you should pay him money to fix your car that you've not reported any problem with, you should be equally suspicious.

    Why things are different when they involve computers, I've never worked out.

    1. Oneman2Many

      Things aren't different. People fall for 'the your roof needs repairing, I can do it cheap today as I am on another job in the area' type scams all the time. Or you have a gas leak, fake ID and they are in.

      Unfortunately most of the time it the people that can least afford it that are the victims.

      1. Lee D

        And, again, sorry but if you're stupid enough to fall for that, then there's no helping you. We can't educate you about that (despite decades of advertising, leafleting and school visits about strangers at doors, targeted to all ages). We can't magically stop it happening. And if you're vulnerable then, no, you shouldn't be opening your own door / PC in the first place. It's up to the carers/family/neighbours to make sure that the vulnerable don't get scammed, because the police are already doing as much as they can do about that.

        I had a bloke knock on my door. He was "from your electricity supplier", had a little clipboard, hi-vis jacket, hardhat, the works. I asked him who that supplier was. After the second guess, I told him to leave before I called the police. He protested, saying he just needed to put a card in my meter, etc. etc. etc. so I picked up my phone. He left and went to the next house. The entire STREET was filled with people doing the same thing, and it was an EDF cold-selling scam, but "official"... these guys had paperwork, your name, (sadly not your current electricity supplier), ID badges, worked for a big company, etc. It was still a scam, to get you to switch supplier.

        If I'd had CCTV, I'd have pressed charges because he specifically tried to gain access to my property posing as "my" electricity supplier. I just filed complaints instead, but they were all over my entire road doing the same to all my neighbours, knowing it was impossible to prove what was said.

        No-one can educate you or stop you from falling for a scam. As such, if you fall for one, you fall for them all. It's your responsibility to educate yourself, even if that means the hard way. And then you realise that just the simple truth of "trust no-one" applies to such things.

        If you would fall for the roof scam, or the car scam, or the electricity scam, or the computer scam, it's because of YOU. If someone is vulnerable to falling for it, honestly, there's nothing you can do short of being there all the time, forcibly educating them to not speak to people trying to sell them things (or enter their property), or letting them be scammed. That's why they have secure housing with bright people on the door protecting their residents.

        And, of course, scammers will target the vulnerable because they are already unscrupulous - why should we think there's honour among thieves? Fact is, there is NOTHING you can do about that. Except spread stories of how "Trust No-one" is all you need to know (and no "but this guy is different" exceptions).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It as to do with the fact people refuse to be computer literate and prefer to think it's all run by magical elves.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "It as to do with the fact people refuse to be computer literate and prefer to think it's all run by magical elves."

        Very true. Here (University), it almost seems a badge of honour to be as inept as possible with computers.

        "<giggle>Oh, I know nothing about computers, can you do it for me?"

        "No, I gave you a step-by-step sheet, you just need to be able to read"

        "<snigger>No, I really can't understand it, it's too technical"

        And that's just the rugby team giggling.

        (Anonymous, because they might giggle like schoolgirls, but the rugby team are still ... large)

      2. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Not run by magical elves!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        Oh sh**

        So what are the elves doing then??

  10. Tieger

    as i see it, the difference between these and ones involving cars or rooves is that by the time they ask for money, they've *already got full access to your pc*. the asking for money is just a little cherry on top - even if you hang up right then, they've already won.

    its easy to imagine someone trusting them enough to 'just help them check a few things' and then realising they're in over their heads.

    1. JulianB

      Difference between this and roofs or cars

      I think the difference is that it just conceivable (perhaps not to you and me, but to a lot of people) that Microsoft would know that your Windows computer has a problem and it is possible to give them access and let them do stuff to it remotely. Hardly anybody would accept the idea of Ford knowing your car has a worn bearing and offering to fix it over the phone (there's always one, I guess).

  11. Number6

    Missed Out

    I've never had a call from these scammers, although my tendency to ignore the phone if I don't recognise the number probably helps me avoid them. I think I'd start by asking which IP address was causing the problem so I could determine which machine I needed to work on. Or I'd try it the other way around and ask if it was the one with the address that they could see misbehaving on the internet.

    1. Anthony Cartmell

      Re: Missed Out

      I kept one of these scammers chatting for 45 minutes, while doing some tedious work at the same time. It went really well, I was feigning some computer knowledge and some skepticism but allowed him to win me over. Then I lost it when eventually he told me my IP address on record was and when I burst into laughter he hung up. He knew he was scamming.

      Another one I let them take me as far as downloading some remote access software, I then just typed the wrong numbers into it so they could never connect. Took three attempts before they gave up, wasting their time nicely.

  12. Martyn 1

    At least they're not scamming someone if they're wasting their time on you....

    Had one call me once while I was watching a film on the telly. Told him my PC was upstairs and I was on a corded landline, so every time he asked me to do something I had to "go upstairs" and then come back and report the status (took 5-10 minutes each time). By the time I had "mystyped" t the URL 4 or 5 times he started reading it out phoenetically, I then had to report that typing "hoteltangotangopappacolonslashslashwhiskeywhiskeywhiskeydot....." into the browser didn't work.

    By the end of the call the only time I'd got off the sofa was when I went to make a cup of tea, and had had him on the phone for 45 minutes - I could have kept him going longer but the film finished and I had other stuff to do, and before I hung up I made sure he realised he was a theiveing scammer !

    1. Felix Krull

      Re: At least they're not scamming someone if they're wasting their time on you....

      Reminds me of a friend of mine's father, back when phone salesmen (here in Denmark) were only allowed to peddle newspapers, for some reason. They'd usually call at dinner time when they knew you'd be home, so he'd just say: ' Oh, how nice of you to call, please hang on for just a minute'. Then he'd put down the phone in the recliner seat and go back to his dinner.

      Half an hour later, when he'd finished his dinner, he'd sit down in the recliner with a cup of coffee, pick up the phone and say: 'sorry to have kept... hello? Hello?'

      Funny thing is, this was in the eighties, and back then this was considered terribly rude.

      Civilization: how I miss it!

  13. Andrew van der Stock

    What are LogMeIn doing to make these scams easier to report and block?

    In my view, LogMeIn (and all remote access tools, really) should have a warning users have to read and acknowledge on the login screen with a big red button users can easily click to report and block the six digit code immediately that terminates the connection to your computer immediately. LogMeIn should make note of the IP addresses of the originating end, and block the source IP AS netblock from making any new LogMeIn connections until the parent ISP clears their customer off the Internet. LogMeIn should donate any payments from fraudulent scams to Indian charities, particularly charities with programs like ethics for kids to prevent new recruits. As the scammers have to install an agent on their computers, it would also be nice if the LogMeIn code locks the scammer workstation hard and sounds a very loud siren noise and flashing lights with a notice of the nearest police station's address, so they can go hand themselves in, and send out a IP trace locator to the local authorities so the scammers can be arrested and prosecuted.

    Or am I just dreaming, and Logmein is profiting from this awful trade?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ahemm!, a little extreme but what the hey...

      Having already been called by these blood-sucking scumbags more than once, I most fully appreciate and sympathize with your justified outrage, but getting Logmein to do anything that far-reaching would be a very hard sell.

      Even if the entire blogosphere, facebooksphere, twittersphere and anywheresphere chatted constantly about how Logmein was just a scam-facilitating tool (which is one thing that WOULD make them act), the minute they began backtracking and blocking sender IPs, the scammers would just find and use some other tool.

      Incidentally, does Logmein actually show a connecting system's true public IP address or does it display some universal proxy address?

      Payback.... can be fun....

  14. Tanuki

    Is it wrong to...

    start playing along with these callers' sad spiels but after a few minutes say something like "You sound like a nice [boy|girl] - tell me - what colour bra and panties are you wearing?" and "You don't have a webcam do you?"

    1. dorsetknob

      Re: Is it wrong to...

      "" Emphatic no it is not wrong""

      I Usually Play along with this type of scam for as long as possible to waste their time and when the so called support worker /cold calling scammer is female i end up playing the phone pervert

      you know

      what colour is your bra does your panties match what style are they your turning me on ( Slap your belly with hand with phone held near you know what that sounds like )

      are you feeling wet down below You get the idea !!!

      I have Even had them pass me to their supervisor reporting me for sexualy harrasing them

      the So called supervisor taking over the call and telling me that the call is being recorded and that they are reporting me to the Police for "" Making obscene Phone calls""

      ""RESULT"" (win for me ).

      The so called supervisor ain't happy when i tell them to go ahead and report me to the police for "" Making obscene Phone calls"" as the police would not do anything because i have not made an obscene Phone

      when they examine my phone records for evidence they will find that

      1. I did not dial the call therefore i did not make an obscene Phone ( its not illegal to answer a call with risque conversation).

      2. that they then would be charged with wasting police time.

      Usually they then hang up (win no 2 for me ).

      Dirty coat ............well it seems appropiate

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The obvious solution to this problem is to ban the production of stock photos of cheerful people in brightly-lit offices with telephone headsets - without them, there'd be no way for the scammers to make their web pages.

    If you ask me, Google ought to put its copious brainpower to work coming up with a virus which would infect web servers, detect pictures of people with telephone headsets, and replace them with images of early-1900s sweat shops and etchings from 'Dante's Inferno'.

    That goes for legitimate companies who use those pictures, too, mind you.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "The obvious solution to this problem is to ban the production of stock photos of cheerful people in brightly-lit offices with telephone headsets - without them, there'd be no way for the scammers to make their web pages."

      The "WhoStoleMyPhotos" extension is useful to see which stock supplier they're using (usually ShutterStock).

      I've never had one of these calls, but I've seen people fall for these, pyramid and various employment scams, As another poster has noted, teachers seem particularly susceptible to these kinds of con artists.

  16. Furbian

    My favortie brush offs.

    Tell them I have Linux, these leaves them befuddled and they hang up quickly. In reality I have a few Linux Virtual Machines, but my main OS is Windows 7.

    Another one I do for fun, tell them I built my PC, this also results in a quick hang up, i.e. "Yes, it's very simple, bought a case, motherboard CPU and memory, and put it all together...".

    Last but not least, "YES, I am really having trouble, can you just wait a minute.", then leave phone near a TV or some source of music, repeat as long as it's fun, i.e. "with you in a jiffy, just hang on, really interested", or they hang up.

    1. Chozo

      Re: My favortie brush offs.

      Getting a rise

      "You idiot! you have just called the place you work for. Stand up so I can see what desk you're on"

    2. Soruk

      Re: My favortie brush offs.

      I've never had one of these calls, but my mum has had a few, and she always winds them up - with RISC OS. (Her main computer is an Acorn Risc PC700)

  17. Steve Brooks

    Last one I had I used a well known fictitious computer as a stand in, when you tell them all you are getting is an ++out of cheese++ error they start to get confused. Of course I did tell them they had called Commander Vimes of the Ank-Morpork City Guard first but they didn't seem to get a clue from that, and putting Mr Stibbons on to let them try and fix Hex just didn't get a rise, I guess the Diskworld books don't sell well in India.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've always thought it would be amusing to get hold of one of the flow charts those kind of places use, and start to use it on the caller as if you were the one doing the cold-call, and act offended if they try to say they're the ones who called you.

    1. Ed_UK

      "I've always thought it would be amusing to get hold of one of the flow charts"

      Counterscript is what you want:

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