A man from Leicestershire has been given a suspended prison sentence for pretending to be a Microsoft employee to gain access to people’s computers.
Narendra Vadgama, from Barrow upon Soar, “didn’t care” about his victims when he cold-called to offer them phony computer support services, the judge said during sentencing.
Vadgama told people their computer had been compromised, or their routers had been hacked or infected, before taking over their devices. The 56-year-old then refused to give them access to their computers and threatened to shut them down unless they handed over money. His victims, some of whom were vulnerable people, paid as much as £499.99, with many making multiple payments.
Vadgama was sentenced on Friday after pleading guilty to four unfair trading offences, including using the Microsoft and TalkTalk names fraudulently, falsely marketing computer support services, and denying consumers access to their own computers to coerce them into payment.
He was handed a 12-month prison sentence, which was reduced to nine months because of his guilty plea and suspended for 18 months; disqualified from acting as a company director for seven years; and placed under a curfew from 8pm to 8am for six months.
Vadgama, who traded under the name Internet Security Direct, was prosecuted by the National Trading Standards eCrime Team (NTSeCT) following extensive work and support from Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit. The technology company regularly collaborates with authorities, such as the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) at City of London Police, to tackle computer software service fraud.
“The ongoing collaboration between the NFIB and Microsoft has led to the success of this investigation,” a City of London Police spokesman said.
“The combined efforts of the NFIB and Microsoft led to the identification of Vadgama’s crimes and his subsequent prosecution. By making the most of specialist skills and expertise, we have been able to tackle a crime that often targets the most vulnerable in our society.
“In this instance, Vadgama used the name of Microsoft to trick victims and to lull them into a false sense of security. Our partnership with Microsoft has allowed us to bring Vadgama to justice for his crime and this should serve as a warning to others involved in this type of behaviour that you will be caught and punished.”
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, lost just under £20.7 million through Computer Software Service Fraud between June 2016 and June 2017. There were 34,504 Computer Software Service Fraud reports made to Action Fraud In 2016/17, 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 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.
Hugh Milward, Head of Corporate, Legal and External Affairs at Microsoft UK, said: “Unfortunately, the names of reputable companies such as Microsoft are often used fraudulently to lull victims into a false sense of security.
“Our customers are often targeted by criminals who are always seeking new and increasingly sophisticated ways to deceive their victims and we work closely with law enforcement to tackle these scams and protect our customers. Identifying the people behind these crimes can be difficult, which is why this kind of cooperative, cross sector collaboration is exactly what is needed to combat cyber criminals who often operate on a global scale.
“We’d like to reassure all users of our software that Microsoft will never cold call you out of the blue to offer tech support or send you unsolicited tech support pop ups.”
Anyone who believes they have been a victim of this type of crime should contact Action Fraud.