According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “thousands” of Australians have been targeted for hundreds of dollars each by cold call scammers pretending to be Microsoft but police, regulators and the software company are powerless to fight the growing problem.
The scammers, typically based in Indian call centres, cold call people claiming to be Microsoft staff informing them that their computer has a virus on it. They provide bogus evidence of a virus infection and after winning over the victim, convince them to allow the scammer remote access to their computer through an internet website.
The scammers then pretend to fix the machine and ask for a fee that is up to $400. They use a combination of high pressure sales tactics and social engineering to scare the victim into paying the fee and because victims willingly hand over their credit card details, there is little legal recourse.
Stuart Strathdee, Microsoft Australia’s chief security advisor, admitted the problem had grown in scale in recent months and Microsoft was receiving anywhere from two to 50 complaints a day from consumers.
“There’s a number of different organisations doing this and they’re changing their names almost constantly – we hear new names every week,” said Strathdee, who himself has been cold called by the scammers three times.
Strathdee said any prosecution would be difficult as victims would need to have recorded the calls for use as evidence. Some have published recordings of the scam calls on YouTube.
The International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN), which coordinates responses to global scams such as this, said in an emailed statement that “both ICPEN and other national enforcement agencies are aware of the scam that you refer to”.
However, it could not detail any specific measures taken to shut the scam down.