Four people have been arrested in the UK following an investigation into scam calls from fraudsters claiming to be able to fix IT issues for a fee.
The arrests follow a two-year long joint investigation by the City of London Police and Microsoft, which aimed to tackle the global problem of computer software service fraud.
The scheme, which is thought to cost users hundreds of millions of pounds every year, involves a victim being contacted and told that their computer is either infected with a virus or is not working correctly. The victim is then told that for a fee, the caller will be able to fix the problems.
Instead the fraudsters will trick the user into installing malicious software on their machine, granting access to the victim's computer, as well as obtain payment details so that a large sum of money can be stolen. The investigation also revealed that some victims would be called again later and told they are due a refund, which allows scammers to steal even more money.
While the inquiry found that most calls originated in India, two men and two women have been accused of involvement in the UK. A 29-year-old man and 31-year-old woman from Woking in Surrey were arrested on Tuesday, while a 37-year-old man and 31-year-old woman were arrested in South Shields, Tyneside.
The Surrey pair has since been released on bail, while the two from Tyneside have been released pending further inquiries.
These scams typically happen through cold calling, with fraudsters pretending to be members of Microsoft IT support, or similar technology companies, but there has been a recent increase in the use of pop-up notifications, which prompt the victim to call a number.
According to the investigation, there were 34,504 instances of computer software service fraud in the 2016/17 financial year, resulting in losses of almost 21 million.
Victims would lose on average up to 600 in a single scam, with the majority of those targeted being the elderly.
Commander Dave Clark, City of London Police and national coordinator for economic crime said: "These arrests are just the beginning of our work, making the best use of specialist skills and expertise from Microsoft, local police forces and international partners to tackle a crime that often targets the most vulnerable in our society."
Users have been advised to remain vigilant to suspicious calls. Computer companies do not make unsolicited calls to help you fix your machine, and Microsoft does not request payment information to validate copies of Windows. Users are also advised to be on the look out for anything related to a 'Microsoft Lottery', a scam that claims you have won a cash prize.
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Dale Walker is the Managing Editor of ITPro, and its sibling sites CloudPro and ChannelPro. Dale has a keen interest in IT regulations, data protection, and cyber security. He spent a number of years reporting for ITPro from numerous domestic and international events, including IBM, Red Hat, Google, and has been a regular reporter for Microsoft's various yearly showcases, including Ignite.