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'Your computer has a virus' cold call con artists on the rise – Microsoft

Complaints up 24% as horrible humans rake in the readies

Microsoft has released stats showing that tech support scams are on the increase, with 153,000 complaints received and 15 per cent of complainants losing cold, hard cash.

For those who have been fortunate enough not to be subject to one, a tech support scam is typically where a ne'er-do-well will call up a user, usually claiming to be from Microsoft, and talk the victim through a number of steps that will result in something scary happening on the user’s screen and a fee being paid to resolve the ‘problem’.

Microsoft has published statistics from its own customer services team showing complaints up 24 per cent on 2016’s figures, with users who actually paid up losing between $200 and $400.


In America, tech support conmen get a mild slap. In Blighty, scammers get the book thrown at them


Among the people from 183 countries that ran to Microsoft with complaints was one unfortunate Dutch user that lost €89,000 after a scammer was able to empty their bank accounts.

The UK’s telecommunications watchdog, Ofcom, reported (PDF) a jump from 4 to 6 per cent of all nuisance calls in the UK being "computer support" based, with calls received by those over 55 significantly higher than those picked up by the under 55s.

While operating systems and browsers can be toughened to block malware downloaded from phishing emails or websites that display alarming fake error messages, protecting a user from acting on a telephone call from a friendly computer technician is more problematic.

Microsoft has taken steps in Windows 10 "S Mode" to lock down the operating system in order to make it more difficult for a user to be talked through the process needed to get malware installed. Unless, of course, malware crops up in the Microsoft Store.

'Mother' tattoo

Tech support scammers mess with hacker's mother, so he retaliated with ransomware


As Google previously confirmed, just because an app comes from a vendor's store, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it will be as pure as the driven snow.

However, with the likes of Windows 10 "S Mode" yet to make significant impact, Microsoft conceded: "As in many forms of social engineering attacks, customer education is key."

So if someone comes a-calling unsolicited and purporting to be from Microsoft, putting the phone down is almost always the right thing to do.

The Register has contacted Microsoft and, at the suggestion of Ofcom, the Information Commissioner's Office, which has lead regulatory responsibility for tackling nuisance calls. ®

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