Yesterday four people were arrested as the result of two years of work from Microsoft and the City of London Police into the global problem of computer software service fraud.
In Woking, Surrey and Sussex Police Cyber Crime Unit arrested a 29-year-old man and a 31-year-old woman on suspicion of fraud. They have since been bailed.
In South Shields, a 37-year-old man and 35-year-old woman were arrested on suspicion of fraud by NERSOU officers. Both were later released pending further enquiries.
The arrests have come about as a result of work by the City of London Police and forensic and investigative services provided by Microsoft analysing tens of thousands of Action Fraud reports and working with other affected organisations, such as BT and TalkTalk, to attempt to trace the source of the problem. This analysis and enquiries undertaken by the City of London Police have shown that many of the calls originate in India and that the worldwide losses from victims are thought to be in the hundreds of millions of pounds.
The collaboration with Microsoft was formed against a background of ongoing engagement with industry by the City of London Police to combat fraud in a diverse range of areas such as insurance and intellectual property.
For the financial year 2016/17, there were 34,504 computer software service fraud reports made to Action Fraud, the national fraud and cyber reporting centre, with attributed losses of £20,698,859. This accounts for 12% of all reports to Action Fraud, making it the third most reported fraud type. The average loss suffered by victims is £600 and the average age of victims is 62. Despite these losses the number of victims is thought to be much higher as analysis shows many fail to report.
Computer software service fraud involves the victim being contacted and told that there is a problem with their computer and that, for a fee, the issue can be resolved. No fix actually occurs. Once the fraudster has access to the victim’s computer they can install software which could potentially be malicious. The victim is cold called the majority of times but recently there has been an increase in contact via a pop-up on the victim’s computer which then prompts them to phone the suspect.
The victim is persuaded to grant remote access to their computer and provide payment details. The fraudster then uses a variety of methods to obtain access to the victim’s bank account to extract large sums of money. The victim may also be contacted again later and are told they are due a refund and they are again asked for access to the account. The fraudster will use this opportunity to take more money.
The fraudster often claims to be calling from Microsoft, or other technology companies, in order to give them more credibility with the caller.
The two-year collaboration came about due to the growth in reports of this crime to Action Fraud and Microsoft.
Commander Dave Clark, City of London Police and National Co-ordinator 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.
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.
"Tackling organised crime is a priority for us and we work together with other agencies to deal effectively with it by providing investigative and technical resources and doing all we can to safeguard victims."
Hugh Milward, Director, Corporate, External and Legal Affairs for Microsoft UK, said: “Realising that you’ve fallen victim to a scam is a horrible experience for anyone. Not just the loss of money but also the feeling that you’ve been tricked and that your personal information has been stolen. Unfortunately, the names of reputable companies, like Microsoft, are often used by criminals to lull victims into a false sense of security. That’s why we partnered with the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau to track these people down and bring them to justice. It’s a collaboration which can cohesively combat and investigate computer service fraud. Today’s arrests are just the start.
We’d also like to reassure all users of Microsoft software that we will never cold call you out of the blue or use tech support pop ups on websites, Scammers can be extremely convincing, but if you think you have been contacted by them, please visit our website for guidance or get in touch with us directly through our contact page.”