Tech giants collaborate to combat online support scammers

Amazon and Microsoft have partnered with the central law enforcement agency of India to combat online tech support scammers

The increase in scams where criminals pose as online support, offering to rid people of computer viruses with the intent of gaining access to their devices, is not new. However, in recent years, these scams have witnessed a significant surge, as criminals continue to create new tactics.

Last year, tech support scams were by far the most commonly reported category of fraud against people age 60 and older, with nearly 18,000 victims reporting total losses of close to US$588m in 2022, according to a report issued by the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Centre.

How do tech scams work?

Tech support scams, which began around 15 years ago, have rapidly evolved as criminals adopt new tactics and become increasingly sophisticated. For example, scammers may use malware to take over a computer, making it challenging for users to close fake virus warning pop-ups and find the exit button. This is done with the goal of convincing the user to call the promoted support hotline for assistance.

The scammers will then offer costly assistance for these non-existent viruses. They may also request remote access to the user's computer, allowing them to steal personal information and bank login details. In addition to pop-ups, scammers may also use text messages, emails, and robocalls to contact people, impersonating well-known companies, such as Apple or Microsoft, to make the scam seem more legitimate, and claim expired security software or illicit content has been planted on the device, coercing victims to pay for resolution.

What is being done to combat this?

Although scammers are present all over the world, India unfortunately has a large amount of ‘fake call centres’ and the country’s investigators are working tirelessly to crack down on them by collaborating with Microsoft and Amazon.

According to an official statement by India's Central Bureau of Investigation, as well as blog posts from Microsoft and Amazon regarding the same mission, the central law enforcement agency of India has collaborated with international tech giants, local law enforcement, and major technology corporations to conduct extensive searches across 76 locations in five Indian states. 

This operation, named Chakra-II, aimed to dismantle call centres that specialised in luring victims through deceptive pop-up ads falsely representing themselves as Microsoft or Amazon support. They provided a toll-free number, connecting victims with an operator who would gain remote access to the user's computer. Subsequently, the operator would then perform unnecessary "repairs" on the fully functional computer, charging huge subscription fees for these redundant services.

The raids concluded with the authorities seizing 48 computers, 32 phones, two servers, along with an additional 33 SIM cards and various other electronic devices. Associated bank accounts of the criminals were frozen as the alleged perpetrators are brought to justice. The investigation revealed that the targeted centres focused primarily on users based in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Spain, and Germany.

A zero tolerance for cybercriminals

In its blog post, Amazon says: “it has zero tolerance for criminals who pretend to be us, or any brand, to commit fraud”. In its ongoing dedication to safeguarding consumers from impersonation scams,  Amazon has initiated the removal of over 20,000 phishing websites and 10,000 phone numbers being used in impersonation schemes during 2022. 

Amazon has further referred numerous criminals worldwide to law enforcement agencies, leading to arrests and crackdowns on scam operations. The organisation remains committed to supporting law enforcement in their endeavors to ensure these scammers face legal consequences.

Microsoft maintains a genuine and comprehensive support website that has been specifically designed to address such scams and provide guidance to users on identifying them. Microsoft explains that tech companies like itself do not initiate unsolicited calls or emails to address computer or device issues, and they certainly do not reach out through web pop-up advertisements featuring toll-free phone numbers. 

Safeguarding individuals and organisations from any of these scams starts with an awareness and education on the ever changing online landscape. With cybercriminals becoming increasingly sophisticated, it is crucial that users take care and adopt a proactive approach towards security, minimising the risk of scams and ensuring the safety of their data and systems.

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