Computer takeover scam victims lose £16m in a year

Saleha Riaz
·3 min read
Awareness of computer takeover scams among consumers appears to be low. Photo: Getty
Awareness of computer takeover scams among consumers appears to be low, according to a Which? survey. Photo: Getty

Victims of computer takeover scams, in which their money and personal details were stolen, lost more than £16m ($21m) in the last year, new research by Which? showed. The problem has worsened as more people work from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

The consumer group has heard from people who have lost thousands of pounds to this scam where the perpetrators phone up pretending to be tech support from a reputable company such as Microsoft (MSFT) or BT (BT-A.L).

The fraudsters attempt to persuade victims to install remote access software – which is used by many legitimate IT workers – that allows them to steal money and personal details.

According to UK Finance, impersonation fraud shot up by 84% in the first half of 2020, with almost 15,000 reports and £58m lost. Criminals are thought to be targeting the growing numbers of people working remotely due to the pandemic by posing as IT departments or software providers.

In the last 12 months, Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime, said it received 14,893 computer software service fraud reports, with reported losses reaching around £16.5m over that period, the Which? report stated.

Awareness of this scam among consumers appears to be low. A Which? survey in September found that despite some banks displaying warnings, four in 10 people have never heard of remote access software.

Based on reports seen by Which?, TeamViewer is the brand of remote access software reported as being misused by scammers most often, although others include AnyDesk, GoToAssist and LogMeIn.

TeamViewer told Which?: “Stopping fraudulent activity remains a high priority for TeamViewer, and we strongly condemn any criminal activity perpetrated by bad actors on the platform.”

Which? is calling on banks to reimburse blameless customers who have fallen victim to this type of fraud.

The group also said the government should legislate to enable the current voluntary code on bank transfer scams to be replaced with a new statutory code of practice. This should include clear standards for all payment providers involved in transferring money between accounts, to address weaknesses in the current code that have left scam victims facing a lottery when they try to get their money back.

Jenny Ross, money editor at Which?, said: “Millions of pounds are lost to computer takeover scams every year, with potentially devastating consequences for victims who lose life-changing sums of money to these callous fraudsters.”

READ MORE: More than £1bn in refunds 'illegally withheld' for cancelled holidays

What to do if you think you’ve given remote access to a scammer:

  • Switch off both the device and your wi-fi connectivity.

  • Speak to your banks as a matter of urgency.

  • Remove the relevant app from your list of recent downloads or installed programs, check for other programs that may have been installed remotely.

  • Change your email and online banking passwords and, where possible, enable two-factor authentication.

  • If you have security software, ensure it has all new and recent updates – then run a full security scan.

Earlier in the week Which? said an estimated £1bn in holiday refunds from cancelled travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic are still yet to be paid to consumers.

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