Police have arrested four people in the UK as part of an operation to crack down on fraudsters who pretend to work for technology companies such as Microsoft.
A 29-year-old man and a 31-year-old women were held by Surrey and Sussex Police’s Cyber Crime Unit in Woking on suspicion of fraud. They have since been bailed.
In South Shields, a 37-year-old man and a 35-year-old woman were arrested by the North East Regional Special Operations Unit (NERSOU) on suspicion of fraud. Both were later released pending further enquiries.
The arrests are the result of two years of forensic and investigative work by the City of London Police and Microsoft.
Officers have been investigating Computer Software Service Fraud, which involves scammers contacting victims and telling them there is a problem with their computer. For a fee, the criminal, who often pretends to be employed by Microsoft, promises to “fix” the fictitious issue. The victim is persuaded to hand over remote access to their computer and provide payment details. The fraudster then uses a variety of methods to access the victim’s bank account and take large sums of money.
The average loss suffered by victims is £600 and their average age is 62.
Advice to avoid Computer Software Service Fraud
- Computer firms do not make unsolicited phone calls to help you fix your computer. Fraudsters make these phone calls to try to steal from you and damage your computer with malware. Treat all unsolicited phone calls with scepticism and don’t give out any personal information.
- Computer firms tend not to send out unsolicited communication about security updates, although they do send security software updates to subscribers of the security communications program. If in doubt, don’t open the email.
- Microsoft does not request credit card information to validate copies of Windows. Microsoft does validate requests to download software from its website via its ‘Genuine Advantage Program’, but never asks for any personally identifying information, including credit card details.
- The “Microsoft Lottery” does not exist – so it’s not true if you’re told you’ve won.
According to police, those who have contacted Action Fraud, the UK’s fraud and cyber reporting centre, have lost just under £20.7 million through these scams in the past year alone. In 2016/17, there were 34,504 Computer Software Service Fraud reports made to Action Fraud, a 32% increase on the previous year. The number of victims and total amount of money handed over is thought to be much higher as many people feel too embarrassed to report the crime.
Most of the time these crimes are attempted over the phone, through cold-calling, but recently there has been a rise in the number of pop-up messages that appear on a victim’s computer prompting them to phone the fraudster.
“Realising that you’ve fallen victim to a scam is a horrible experience for anyone, not just the loss of money but also the feeling that you’ve been tricked and that your personal information has been stolen,” said Hugh Milward, Director of Corporate, External and Legal Affairs at Microsoft UK. “Unfortunately, the names of reputable companies, like Microsoft, are often used by criminals to lull victims into a false sense of security. That’s why we partnered with the City of London Police to track these people down and bring them to justice. It’s a collaboration which can cohesively combat and investigate computer service fraud. Today’s arrests are just the start
“We’d also like to reassure all users of Microsoft software that we will never cold-call you out of the blue or use tech support pop-ups on websites, Scammers can be extremely convincing, but if you think you have been contacted by them, please visit our website for guidance at https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/safety/online-privacy/avoid-phone-scams.aspx, or get in touch with us directly through our contact page.”
Police officers have also worked with other affected organisations, such as BT and TalkTalk, to try to trace the source of the crimes.
Commander Dave Clark, from City of London Police and National Co-ordinator for Economic Crime, said: “These arrests are just the beginning of our work, making the best use of specialist skills and expertise with Microsoft, local police forces and international partners to tackle a crime that often targets the most vulnerable in our society.”
Detective Superintendent Alan Veitch, of NERSOU, added: “We are determined to tackle online fraud, which we know affects many people across the UK. Tackling organised crime is a priority for us and we work together with other agencies to deal effectively with it by providing investigative and technical resources and doing all we can to safeguard victims.”
Anyone who believes they have been a victim of this type of crime should contact Action Fraud.