The City of London police force – working with forces in Surrey and the United Kingdom northeast as part of “Operation Thistle” – collared the four alleged mischief-makers yesterday following what it described as “two years’ work” in conjunction with Microsoft, BT and police organisation Action Fraud, among others.
Detective Superintendent Alan Veitch, of NERSOU, the North East Regional Special Operations Unit said: “We are determined to tackle online fraud, which we know affects many people across the UK”.
Although the calls were found to originate from India, the investigators found that the scam was allegedly being run out of the United Kingdom, with the poor overseas callers working from scripts and, presumably, not really aware they’re doing anything hugely wrong. Both have since been bailed.
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.
Computer software fraud is the third most frequently reported type of fraud, and has led to worldwide losses thought to be in the hundreds of millions of pounds. Both were released pending further inquiries. It also worked with other affected organisations, such as BT to attempt to trace the source of the problem.
It eventually results in a fee being paid in order for the issue to be “resolved”. According to Action Fraud, the average age of victims is 62, who pay around £600 to the scammers. The callers often claim to work for Microsoft, or better yet, for Windows, and ask the victim to provide remote access so they can diagnose and fix the issue.
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.
But it is a total scam from start to finish, and no actual fix occurs.
Hugh Milward, director of Coperate, External and Legal Affairs at Microsoft, said: “Realising that you’ve fallen victim to a scam is a frightful experience for anyone”.
The arrests, London Police Commander Dave Clark told the press, “are just the beginning of our work, making the best use of specialist skills and expertise from Microsoft, local police forces, and worldwide partners to tackle a crime that often targets the most vulnerable in our society”.