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The switched-on Security Director of high-end cyber and communications security company, EncSec, has exposed a large-scale tech support scam that could be costing ordinary computer users hundreds of pounds, while lining them up as potential suspects for a number of other online crimes. Graeme Batsman, who discovered the scam, now wants to spread the word about this simple act of fraud and ransom in an effort to ensure no others fall for the antics of online crime gangs.

Mr Batsman says, “I stumbled across this scam purely by chance, and my experience in the field has given me the opportunity to expose these criminals to the wider public. I hope to draw attention to this specific scam and ensure that anyone who receives a similar call will not hand over their personal details, nor entertain the idea of granting these scammers access to their personal computers.”

Many people have heard of scams where callers, purportedly from reputable companies like Microsoft, advise them of errors or malware on their computer. In July, Mr Batsman received a call to this effect – and his experience as Security Director meant he picked up on the scammers immediately. Intrigued, he decided to follow the scam call through to the end, to see if he could pick up any further information about this potentially fraudulent activity.

The scam caller carried out fake inspections of Mr Batsman’s computer and informed him his computer was riddled with viruses and malware. To someone with little knowledge of the way computers worked, the scans and the information fed back to the victim of this fraud would seem highly authentic – but Mr Batsman’s experience ensured he knew the caller was faking. He agreed to ‘pay’ £150 up front for a computer support and antivirus package, and after his payment had been taken, the call abruptly ended.

But a few days later, the scammers called back and requested access to the computer so they could remotely install the software. The screen went black for 45 minutes while the ‘installation’ took place, but when his computer was restored to normal function, Mr Batsman could see no new installations, no new software and no files transferred. On the third call to the scammers, Mr Batsman requested a re-install, but asked that the screen not go black – he wanted to see them fix and install the antivirus he had supposedly paid for.

Mr Batsman was shocked to discover that the reason his computer had been frozen and taken over by the scammers was because they were processing credit card payments when they thought he wasn’t looking. This was likely to be an effort to mask IP addresses and make such transfers of money untraceable by the authorities, should they be called into question.

After making a note of the details that were appearing on his screen, Mr Batsman traced the information back to a Wembley-based company, and various people in Kolkata (Calcutta). He found job advertisements, work photographs, partner companies, addresses and even Facebook profiles connected back to the scammers. Gathering the evidence he could find, as well as the information he had recovered on other potential victims, Mr Batsman securely encrypted the information and saved it onto a protected USB drive.

Armed with this information, Mr Batsman tried to make a complaint to Action Fraud. He received a poor response from their team, and was worried about the effects these scammers could be having on many of the victims, a large number of whom were pensioners living in the countryside – more trusting and less computer-savvy than urban residents.

After one last call from the scammers, Mr Batsman began to question their motives which led to the criminals hanging up but locking his computer. An unsuspecting victim would be forced to pay the scammers £200 to reactivate (with software that Mr Batsman knew to be free and readily available online, such as Windows Defender). This part of the scam is particularly worrying, as victims are literally held at ransom until they pay the fee to unblock their computer.

Mr Batsman adds, “I was highly disappointed in the response of the relevant authorities to this scam, and I wanted to bring the information to the public's attention and raise the profile of these criminals. It was particularly disconcerting to see how poor the security was when processing credit cards, which could lead to bank fraud. If I can prevent just a handful of people being taken in by this fraudulent activity, my efforts will not have been in vain.”