When journalists strike back – towards a sociology of the scam call

In recent years increasing numbers of people have been plagued by ‘Microsoft support’ scam calls. These callers claim to have identified a fault with the individual’s computer and to be calling on behalf of Microsoft in order to help solve the problem. But suffice to say this is not their real intention:

The phone rings and there’s a voice on the line telling you they’re aware you’re having computer problems, but not to worry – they’re with Microsoft, and they’re here to help. It’s a complete lie, and the opening gambit of an all-too-successful scam.

The person on the end of the line has no idea how your PC has been behaving lately. And they’re certainly nothing to do with Microsoft. They’re just after your cash.

These ‘tech support’ scammers will typically ask for remote access to your PC. They may then infect it with malware that could lift credit card details from your computer. Or they could simply charge you through the nose for PC ‘support’ that you never even needed.


In this wonderful podcast the BBC’s technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones records his interaction with one of these callers. The first 16 minutes or so involve a fascinatingly absurd series of technical claims made by the caller in pursuit of their prize before Cellan-Jones eventually reveals his true identity around the 17th minute.

Yet again I’ve received a call about a “problem with my Windows computer”. From a company in Yorkshire, apparently…
I was quickly passed on to the senior supervisor David, and managed to keep him on the phone for twenty minutes before revealing that the computer “under attack” was actually a Mac.
When I told him I was a journalist and thought he was involved in a disreputable scam, he said “you don’t sound like a journalist.” Now I’m trying to work out whether that’s a good or bad thing.

The audio clip as a whole was interesting and funny. But did anyone else find the interaction from the 17th minute onwards as fascinating as I did? It’s crying out for someone more knowledgeable about ethnomethodology than I am to analyse the weird exchange where the scam caller starts attacking Cellan-Jones and his purported credentials. It reminded me of the strange exchange I had with a ‘chugger’ (charity mugger) who turned up at my front door asking me to sign up to Save the Children. I told him I wasn’t interested and he instantly retorted: “so you’re not interested in helping children?”.

Categories: Rethinking The World

Tags: , , , ,

2 replies »

  1. I may not be savvy with computers but the first time I read complaints about calls purportedly coming from Microsoft at Callercenter.com, I knew it was a scam already. It’s just too obvious.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *