A call centre trader who misled consumers by claiming to be from Microsoft to carry out computer repairs has today [26 January 2018] been sentenced after pleading guilty to four unfair trading practices. Narendra Harilal Vadgama (age 56 of Babington Road, Barrow upon Soar, LE12 8NH), who traded under the name Internet Security Direct, admitted four charges brought under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
Mr Vadgama’s victims were targeted through cold-calling or with computer pop-ups. In many of the cold-calls Mr Vadgama’s company gained the trust of their victims by falsely claiming to be computer technicians from companies like Microsoft. They then claimed that the victim’s computer had been compromised or their routers had been hacked or infected and needed urgent action to stop the victim’s computer or data from being compromised.
Victims were then encouraged to buy computer services they did not need, and paying to have anti-virus software or security software installed that they could get for free directly from Microsoft. Some of the victims were vulnerable people who were duped into giving remote access to their computers, threatening to shut it down until payment was made. Some victims paid as much as £499.99 to Mr Vadgama’s company for unnecessary services, with many paying multiple fees.
In sentencing, His Honour Judge Andrew Stubbs QC said:
“All those who use computers are concerned with internet safety. You saw a business opportunity. Some of the victims are people who are nervous and lack knowledge that you plainly obtained. They are vulnerable to be scammed like they were by people operating for you. You simply didn’t care what was happening.”
Mr Vadgama has been:
- sentenced to a 12 month sentence reduced for credit for a guilty plea by 25% to 9 months (suspended for 18 months)
- disqualified from acting as company director for seven years
- imposed with a curfew from 8pm-8am for six months
The conviction follows an investigation led by the National Trading Standards eCrime Team in close partnership with the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, Microsoft and Leicestershire Police. This collaboration was underpinned by shared intelligence and data around computer service fraud to help uncover new trends and evidence. These combined efforts helped identify the scheme being orchestrated by Mr Vadgama.
Lord Toby Harris, Chair of National Trading Standards, said:
“National Trading Standards is working closely with partners to clamp down on these misleading and aggressive tactics, which coerced victims into paying hundreds of pounds for services they did not need. I’m delighted with the successful work between our teams and partners – including Microsoft and other computer service providers – which sends a strong signal to criminals operating computer service fraud.
“I urge consumers to be vigilant and never allow unknown callers to access your computer remotely. People who suspect they may have fallen victim to similar schemes should report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or at www.actionfraud.police.uk.”
Hugh Milward, Head of Corporate, Legal & External Affairs, Microsoft UK
“Unfortunately, the names of reputable companies such as Microsoft are often used fraudulently to lull victims into a false sense of security. Our customers are often targeted by criminals who are always seeking new and increasingly sophisticated ways to deceive their victims and we work closely with law enforcement to tackle these scams and protect our customers. Identifying the people behind these crimes can be difficult, which is why this kind of cooperative, cross sector collaboration is exactly what is needed to combat cyber criminals who often operate on a global scale.
“We’d like to reassure all users of our software that Microsoft will never cold call you out of the blue to offer tech support or send you unsolicited tech support pop ups.” – Hugh Milward, Director, Corporate, External and Legal Affairs, Microsoft UK.
The investigation was carried out by the National Trading Standards eCrime Team – which is based at City of York Council and North Yorkshire County Council – in conjunction with Leicestershire Police. This followed a number of reports to Action Fraud, the national fraud and cybercrime reporting centre.
The City of London Police’s Commander Dave Clark, the National Co-ordinator for Economic Crime said:
“This case demonstrates precisely why public-private partnership is critical to tackling modern day fraud operating at global scale.
“The combined effort, skills and expertise of the National Trading Standards eCrime Team, UK policing, Microsoft and the Crown Prosecution Service led to the early identification and disruption of Vadgama’s criminal enterprise which was targeting the most vulnerable people in our society. In this instance, Vadgama used the name of Microsoft to trick victims and to lull them into a false sense of security.
“Partnerships like this are increasingly being used and should send a warning to criminals that the UK is increasingly becoming a hostile environment to commit fraud in.”
Cllr Ann Reid, interim executive member for Trading Standards at City of York Council, said:
“By successfully investigating this case, our team has helped to bring some solace to the victims. This kind of fraud in this sector preys upon people looking for technical support but who find they are cruelly deceived. Please, never give your computer details to unsolicited callers.”
Councillor Andrew Lee of North Yorkshire County Council, said:
“Call centre scams like this one affect a large number of consumers. It just shows what can be done to bring the people behind these scams to justice when agencies work together as well as they have in this case.”
Tips from Microsoft: How to protect yourself from tech support scams
If someone claiming to be from Microsoft tech support contacts you:
- Do not purchase any software or services
- Ask if there is a fee or subscription associated with the "service." If there is, hang up
- 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
- Take the person's information down and report it to Action Fraud
- Never provide your credit card or financial information to someone claiming to be from Microsoft tech support
Notes to Editors
For more information please contact the National Trading Standards press office on 020 7025 7570 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes to editors
About National Trading Standards
- National Trading Standards provides leadership influence, support and resources to help combat consumer and business detriment locally, regionally and nationally
- The National Trading Standards Board is a group of senior and experienced local government heads of trading standards, representing all trading standards services across England and Wales. The Board has been set up by the Government as part of changes to the consumer protection landscape and an enhanced role for trading standards
- National Trading Standards funds Regional Investigations Teams that target rogue trading, doorstep crime and scams, providing support across England and Wales through eight regionally based teams:
1.Central England Trading Standards Authorities (CeNTSA)
2.North East Trading Standards Authorities (NETSA)
3.Trading Standards East Midlands (TSEM)
4.Trading Standards North West (TSNW)
5.Tri Region, on behalf of Trading Standards South East Ltd (TSSEL), East of England Trading Standards Association (EETSA) and London Trading Standards Association (LoTSA)
6.Trading Standards Partnership South West (SWERCOTS)
7.Yorkshire and Humber Trading Standards Group (YAHTSG) and
8.Wales Heads of Trading Standards (WHoTS)
- There are separate arrangements in place in Scotland.
- For more information, please visit www.nationaltradingstandards.uk