A common online scam known as computer service fraud is costing victims thousands of pounds.
This week the BBC reported that two call centres in India had been shut down and seven people arrested in an operation run by British and Indian police to crack down on the scam.
The four year long investigation focused on computer service fraud – a common scam, of which more than 2,000 cases are reported to Action Fraud every month.
What is computer service fraud?
Computer service fraud covers a number of scams which usually involve somebody contacting you and falsely claiming to be from a computer company such as Microsoft or Apple.
It is important to note that computer companies say that they will never contact you to help you fix or protect your computer unless you have asked them to.
The unsolicited phone calls which indicate a scam will commonly offer to provide computer security. The callers could claim to be tech support calling to fix a problem with your computer, or ask for credit card information so that they can ‘validate’ your copies of computer software.
Another way that computer service fraud can take place is through pop-up adverts.
Tricked on the phone
In one case, highlighted by the BBC, Doug Varey, from Devon, clicked on an advert that was offering 12 years computer security protection for £556 as long as he signed up.
Once he was signed up, he received a phone call at his home telling him that his computer had been hacked.
He was shown a video of what be was led to believe was a Russian man who was in control of his computer, using his accounts to buy guns.
The victim was offered a “special price” of £4,000 by the ‘advisor’ on the phone to make the problem go away, which he paid.
He only realised that he had been victim of fraud when he was contacted by the police and Microsoft, which was helping with the investigation because the scammers often claimed to be from the company.
The money Mr Varey had paid had gone to a company in India, which was tracked as part of the investigation into computer service fraud.
How to avoid being scammed
Police advise that you check the credentials of any caller who gets in contact claiming to be your internet provider, telephone provider or Microsoft.
They also say that legitimate companies will always ask you to call them back on a number you have obtained from a trustworthy source.
Be aware that phone numbers can be faked, so even if a number calling you matches an official one, it may not be. Numbers on pop-up adverts should never be trusted.
Action Fraud says that you should never trust unsolicited phone calls or give out personal information over the phone. Computer firms never send out unsolicited information about security updates. They only send updates direct to subscribers of the program.
Microsoft will never ask for credit card information to validate any software.