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Scam Busting

“Good afternoon. I am calling from Microsoft about your computer.”

How often have you received a cold call that begins with that opening phrase? I seem to get a call like this several times a week these days. This is just another example of what is at best predatory marketing, and at worst a scam.

“We have detected there is something wrong with your computer.”

Anyone who has a computer will at some time have had it go wrong. All the various bits of software from different manufacturers sometimes fail to mesh together properly and the computer will generate an error box giving you the opportunity to send a report to Microsoft. Now there’s nothing wrong with this, and Microsoft rely on these error reports to detect the security holes in their software and then create updates and patches to fix them. If you click the box to report the error then that may help Microsoft to genuinely make a change to prevent that problem happening again.

Even though Windows does generate and send those little error reports, Microsoft do not collect any information about you, and they certainly do not phone you to help you with your problem. If you should receive a call then they categorically are not really from Microsoft. They are another company trying to sell you something. Something you probably don’t need.

“We have detected there is something wrong with your computer.”

The problem they have detected is; they don’t have a record of you buying their service yet. They will try everything they can to convince you that your computer has a problem. They will be extremely convincing, and demonstrate to you all sorts of evidence to prove to you that there is a problem. If you should follow their instructions then you can guarantee that, lo and behold – there will be a problem with your computer! And guess what? They just happen to have the very piece of software which will solve your problem, for a small fee.

This kind of marketing preys upon the vulnerable. And there are a lot of vulnerable people when it comes to computers, because even with the latest most expensive system protection software installed, your computer can still become infected. 

“We have detected there is something wrong with your computer.”

Even if the company which calls you has special magic spying software which picks up error reports sent from your computer, they would still have no idea of who you are or where you are or what your phone number is. So how did they get your number? They get this information from a telephone directory. If you have a phone then your number will be on a database somewhere, even if you are ex-directory. Companies which you have purchased items from in the past sometimes sell on your details. Somewhere in the small print will be an opt-out clause which they might try to make you overlook, because your details are a valuable commodity. Your details may be sold on legitimately, or harvested illegitimately. But even if you are really careful, your details may still leak out and become available to marketing.

I have received a call about my computer. What should do?

So what should you do? Here are three things you might try.

Firstly, register for free with the Telephone Preference Service. You can find them online at www.tpsonline.org.uk/tps. This is the official central opt out register on which you can record your preference not to receive unsolicited sales or marketing calls. It is a legal requirement that all organisations (including charities, voluntary organisations and political parties) do not make such calls to numbers registered on the TPS unless they have your consent to do so. This should reduce the number of marketing calls you get from genuine companies – and you will then know that any calls you do get are not from reputable companies and you will be on your guard. It takes about 28 days for the TPS registration to activate, but it will make a difference. Unfortunately many of these companies are not based in the UK, and merrily ignore UK data protection law. But inform the caller that you have registered with the TPS and ask for your number to be suppressed from their database. UK companies which are operating legally must make a record of anyone they call who requests that they not be called again – so if they do have your details they must make a note that you do not give your consent for them to call you. If you like, you can make a note of the name of the person calling you and their company address. If it is a UK company and they call you again you can then make a complaint about them to the TPS. Please note that TPS registration is free and you will not have to pay for this.There are companies that provide call blocking services for a fee, but we cannot advise on these.

Secondly; politely end the call. No matter how helpful they might appear to be, what they are fundamentally trying to do is get money out of you. You didn’t request their service, and even if they say they are not selling anything, they are trying to sell you something.

Thirdly, if you should be worried about your computer, get a friendly local expert to have a look for you. RSM have expertise with this sort of thing and we can help check your computer for you, or provide you with some free software which will check your computer out for you. If you really do have a problem, then we might be able to fix it for you, or recommend a local company with a good reputation who can help.

Remember...

  • Microsoft do not call you to help you with a problem. 
  • These are cold marketing calls which are trying to get you to agree to use a service. 
  • You do not need their service – free local help is on hand.

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