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Swedes targeted in new 'Microsoft' phone scam

Published: 05 May 2014 12:29 GMT+02:00

"We are calling you from Microsoft's head office in London. Your computer has a serious virus and you need to open it immediately so we can fix it, otherwise it will crash," is the message many Swedes have been getting in recent weeks. 

Most hang up the phone, but there are many computer rookies, like retired people, who fall prey to the bluff.

"In Stockholm county alone we get about five to six calls a week from victims who have been scammed," Anders Olofsson, crime prevention officer with the Swedish fraud squad, told The Local.

The scammers, who typically speak English with a strong Indian accent, then attempt to access people's computers remotely to steal money from their bank accounts.

One victim, a 71-year old retired schoolteacher, told The Local how she was almost swindled out her pension fund by the fraudulent tactics.

She said that her phone rang at 8am one recent morning, and then she was tricked and bullied for several hours by the scammers.

"It felt like being raped," said the victim who who wished to remain anonymous.

"They said they were in an office in London and you could hear a lot of noise in the background. At first the girl was very patient with me, making me feel like the Queen, although her English wasn't great which surprised me."

She added that the woman on the phone told her to visit a website, enter some details about her computer and then click on a button.

At that point she claimed her computer screen went dark.

"The girl on the phone said 'I can see you with your webcam' and added that we could fix the computer together."

However, the scammer's patience wore thin when the elderly Swede wouldn't give her complete bank card number.

"She said 'I'm going to get my boss' who came on the phone and told me I was crazy, that I had to give them my card details or my computer would crash," said the victim.

Reluctantly, she did so but was suspicious and contacted a legal friend who told her to ring her bank immediately. Her bank told her that there had already been two attempts to take money from her account.

Anders Olofsson at the fraud squad said that polite old people regularly fell victim. 

"Old people are the most vulnerable as they don't want to be rude and will talk on the phone," he told The Local. "Sadly, this type of fraud has been around for years but although people are aware, there are some who slip under the radar," 

The new hacking scam recently featured on the Swedish crime show Efterlyst ("Wanted") where a number of victims came forward. In 2011 The Local reported on a similar fraud, where victims were tricked into giving their personal details to supposed Microsoft staff.

The software giant has always maintained that it would never call people and ask for money to fix a computer problem.

Indeed, the US company has said that greater awareness of the issue is vital to preventing future frauds.

"The most successful way to combat these scams is by making people aware of them," Per-Ragnar Johansson, an advocacy specialist with Microsoft in Sweden, told The Local in 2011.

Swedish police told The Local that when traces were ran on the money scams, they were tracked to Bombay and Calcutta, although a few were in the UK.

"We simply don't have the resources to track down every single fraud that is traced internationally. What we can do is try and prevent them and tell people to be extra careful," said Olofsson.

He added; "If somebody rings telling you that you have a problem with your computer and wants money - then just hang up." 

Patrick Reilly (news@thelocal.se)

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