Inquiry into scam targets directors of companies

A NUMBER of company directors in Ireland are being investigated in connection with an alleged lucrative phone scam.

The Data Protection Commissioner said up to 300,000 people here have received calls from people claiming to be from Microsoft, who then seek access to their computers and credit card details.

Deputy commissioner Gary Davis said they did not know what percentage had handed over access to their computer and credit card details.

But he said those that did were typically charged €200 for having their software problems “fixed”.

If 1% of callers contacted handed over their details, it would have made the scammers €600,000.

The Data Protection Commission is working with Microsoft and Comreg to address the problem. Gardaí and the National Consumer Agency are also involved.

It is understood the gardaí’s computer crimes investigation unit is examining one computer belonging to a victim.

“This scam is rampant,” said Mr Davis.

“Hundreds of thousands of people have received calls — up to 300,000. It has been going on since April of last year and is still active. They are really targeting this country.”

Mr Davis said they had succeeded in taking down an Irish website before Christmas, which, they say, was linked to the scam, but said the calls were still being made.

He said all the calls are made from a call-centre in India.

“We are making progress in identifying an Irish link to these calls and intend to bring prosecutions,” he said. Any prosecution would be on grounds of making unsolicited phonecalls.

Any investigation into more serious matters would have to be undertaken by gardaí. It is not clear at what stage their investigation is at.

Mr Davis said the office has been in contact with legal representatives for a number of companies under investigation.

He added: “In the meantime, the best answer is to hang up if receiving such a call and if you have provided details of your credit card to any entity on foot of such a call, we would advise you to contact your credit card provider immediately.”

Paul Rellis, general manager of Microsoft Ireland, said: “Anyone who receives an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft should hang up. We can assure you Microsoft does not make these kinds of calls.”

microsoft. com/protect and dataprotection.ie

The scam

- Consumers are cold called from someone claiming to be from Microsoft and told there is a problem with their computer and offered help to fix it.

- Once the caller has gained the consumer’s trust, they ask consumers to log on to a website to download a file to help solve the problem.

- They then ask for credit card details to pay for software to fix the virus and also potentially attempt to steal from the person by accessing personal information on their computer.

- They can also infect your computer with damaging viruses and spyware.

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