New Delhi police have arrested 63 suspects in the last two months working and operating 26 call centers that were engaging in tech support scams, posing as tech support staff at Microsoft, Google, Apple, and other major tech companies.
The raids on Delhi-based call centers have taken place over the last two months, Microsoft said. Police first raided 10 call centers and arrested 24 people in October, and then raided 16 other call centers and made 39 more arrests this week.
Microsoft said its staff received over 7,000 victim reports associated with the 16 call centers raided this week, from over 15 countries. Users reported paying between $100 and $500 for unnecessary tech support services and products.
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The raids resulted in the seizure of substantial evidence including call scripts, live chats, voice call recordings and customer records from tech support fraud operations, Microsoft said.
The Delhi police's crackdown on tech support call centers came after Microsoft filed legal complaints earlier this year. Microsoft has been collecting customer complaints about tech support scams since 2014, via its "Report a technical support scam" portal.
Tech support scams (also known as scareware) have been a huge problem for Windows users over the past two decades. According to a Microsoft survey's result released at the start of 2018, three out of five Windows users encountered a tech support scam in the previous year. Overall, Microsoft said there was a five points reduction in the number of tech support scams going around, but the number was still high.
The company has been fighting against such scams since 2014, when it filed its first legal action in the US, but it announced renewed efforts to crack down on tech support scammers earlier this year in April.
Based on today's news, it appears that the company has focused its efforts on tech support scams hosted abroad, after spending the last few years working with North American authorities on cracking down against tech support operations located in the US and Canada.
There are multiple variations of a tech support scam, but all are based around the concept of showing an alarming popup to a user to scare him/her in calling a tech support number to fix a non-existent problem.
There are tech support operations that rely on luring users on sites and showing the popups via the browser, there are tech support groups that show the popups at the OS level by using malware, and there are groups operating via emails or cold-calls, without showing any popups at all.
In some cases the call center operators ask for remote access to "infected" PCs, but not in all. The end goal in all these scams is to convince the user into paying for unnecessary tech support services or security software.
Below is the tried and tested advice that Microsoft has always given out to users over the past few years in regards to tech support scams, shady popups, or impromptu phone calls:
- Microsoft will never proactively reach out to you to provide unsolicited PC or technical support. Any communication we have with you must be initiated by you.
- Be wary of any unsolicited phone call or pop-up message on your device.
- Do not call the phone number in a pop-up window on your device and be cautious about clicking on notifications asking you to scan your computer or download software. Many scammers try to fool you into thinking their notifications are legitimate.
- Never give control of your computer to a third party unless you can confirm that it is a legitimate representative of a computer support team with whom you are already a customer.
- If skeptical, take the person's information down and immediately report it to your local authorities.
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