British Police and Microsoft Take Aim at Tech Support Scam Fraud

Four suspects were arrested in the U.K as part of a collaboration between Microsoft and law enforcement to help stop the growing problem of tech support fraud.

online fraud

Tech support scams are a global problem with fraudsters tricking unsuspecting users into believing that their systems are somehow infected with malware that needs to be removed. British authorities and the City of London Police department working with Microsoft have made an attempt to reduce tech support fraud, making four arrests of alleged perpetrators.

The arrests were announced by the City of London Police on June 28. Those arrested have only been identified by their ages and include a 29 year-old and and a 31 year-old woman who have since been released on bail. Additionally a 37 year-old and and a 35 year-old woman were arrested by North East Regional Special Operations Unit (NERSOU) officers, and later released pending further enquiries, according to London Police.

The arrests came as part of a two-year collaboration between Microsoft and British authorities. In tech support scams, the fraudsters call victims claiming to be Microsoft or other technology companies in an effort to trick the users into providing system access or paying a fee.

"Realizing that you've fallen victim to a scam is a horrible experience for anyone,"  Hugh Milward, Director, Corporate, External and Legal Affairs at Microsoft UK said in a statement. "Not just the loss of money but also the feeling that you’ve been tricked and that your personal information has been stolen."

Milward emphasized that Microsoft does not 'cold call' users or use tech support pop ups on websites. Microsoft's advisory on technical support scams warns users to not trust unsolicited calls or to provide any personal information when an unknown tech support calls comes in.

"If you receive an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft Tech Support, hang up. We do not make these kinds of calls," Microsoft's advisory warns.

In the United Kingdom (UK), the Action Fraud national fraud and cyber reporting centre, received 34,504 computer software service fraud reports in 2016.  Tech support scams are also common in the U.S. with the FBI's Internet Crime Center (IC3) receiving 10,850 tech support fraud complaints in 2016 with financial loses estimated at $7.8 million. In contrast, FBI's IC3 received 2,673 ransomware complaints in 2016 that resulted in victims losing approximately $2.4 million. 

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been active in 2017 in combatting tech support scams. In May, the FTC announced results from"Operation Tech Trap" which is an effort to stop tech support scams. The FTC together with its law enforcement partners have launched at least 29 law enforcement action against alleged tech support scam operations over the course of the past year.

The most recent tech support scam settlement announced by the FTC was on June 7, against a group of St. Louis-based defendants that used pop-up ads to trick consumers into buying unnecessary technical support services.

"When tech support scams pop up, the FTC will take action," Tom Pahl, Acting Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said in a statement. "Today's settlements, along with the agency's recent Operation Tech Trap actions, underscore the FTC’s commitment to protecting consumers from tech support scams."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.