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Investigating ‘Microsoft Tech Support Scams’ for BBC Watchdog

“Hello, this is Mark, I’m calling from the Windows Technical Department. We have identified a problem with your computer…”

Have you ever received a phone call that begins like this? I have, too many times to count. The so-called ‘Microsoft Tech Support Scam’ is almost as old as the internet itself but, like a nasty virus, it refuses to go away. I’ve just filmed an investigation for the new series of BBC Watchdog to highlight the how the scam works and catch the fraudsters red-handed.

Tech Support Scam in Action

Tech Support Scam in Action (image: BBC)

Despite being plagued by these calls, I am fortunate; I know that they are almost certainly from scammers intent on stealing my money, personal details or identity. However, thousands of people do fall victim to this fraud every year with many hundreds of thousands of pounds reported stolen in the UK alone.

According to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) the average victim of ‘Computer Software Service Fraud’ will be 59 years old and £210 worse off as a result of the crime, although some report losses of up to £6,000. As with many nuisance calls these criminals work on volume, and for every one hundred calls they make, if only one is successful then it will have been worthwhile.

In the past legal action against the perpetrators has proved difficult (although there have been some successes) but by showing Watchdog viewers what to look out for we hoped to raise awareness and reduce the number of victims.

We decided the best way to do this was to capture the scam in action for the cameras — a first for UK television, we think, and no mean feat given how difficult it is to track down the fraudsters. What happened next was quite intense…

Listen and share! Watchdog reveals the scare tactics scammers use to pressure us into handing over our card details.

Posted by BBC Watchdog on Thursday, 29 October 2015

You can watch the full report here.

Watchdog Scams the Tech Support Scammers broadcasts on BBC1 at 7.30pm on Thursday 29th October 2015.

ITV Good Morning Britain

TalkTalk Data Breach Advice for Customers

Of all the high-profile hacks and leaks of 2015 the TalkTalk Data Breach in October may prove to be one of the most significant yet, potentially impacting all four million of its UK customers.

While details of the breach are still emerging the leaked data appears to include unencrypted names, addresses, email addresses, bank account/credit card information, customer account numbers and more.

TalkTalk Data Breach David McClelland

The ‘significant and sustained’ cyberattack, likely using a DDOS (distributed denial of service) attack as a smokescreen for their chosen method of entry and extraction, shows the hallmarks of highly-organised cybercrime.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time that the UK telco’s customers have had their personal details sneaked out of the back door. Data leaks in November 2014 and August 2015 exposed information that has been used to successfully defraud customers of thousands of pounds with phishing and vishing attacks.

Appearing on ITV Good Morning Britain and BBC Rip Off Britain LIVE to explain the hack and its potential impact, my advice for TalkTalk customers is this:

  1. Treat incoming telephone calls purporting to be from a service provider – TalkTalk or otherwise – as potentially toxic. Regardless of any account number or information quoted, or the telephone number called from (Call Line IDs are easy to spoof), in my opinion phishing and vishing fraud is now so common that incoming calls are impossible to trust. A reputable/genuine caller will quite understand any concerns and give you an option to call back on a verified number found on your (for example) bank statement or the firm’s main website (not a link they send). However, make sure you call back from another number (maybe a mobile if you have one – but check call charges) or ensure your landline has been cleared first (wait 5 minutes or call a friend first).
  2. Check your bank statements, credit card bills and any online payment service accounts (eg Paypal). If there are any transactions you don’t recognise, no matter how small, query them. And then keep checking them – this is good practice anyway.
  3. Check and change your passwords, particularly if you use the same password as your TalkTalk account across any other accounts? Email, social network, PayPal, auction sites etc?

TalkTalk has a dedicated page to keep those concerned updated with the latest news and advice on the data breach: http://help2.talktalk.co.uk/oct22incident

Steam Logo

Modern Warfare? Online gaming accounts hijacked – BBC1 Rip Off Britain LIVE

BBC Rip Off Britain LIVE returns for a second year to The One Show studios in Central London, and once again I will be on-hand to answer more viewers’ consumer technology questions. Last year I spoke about contactless payments and passwords – this year it’s online gaming.

In the first show of the week-long series I’m due to talk about how online gamers are increasingly being targeted by ‘bounty hunters’ eager to hijack their account to gain access to their games, achievements or even their credit card details (bear in mind that the show is live so anything could happen instead…!).

In a plot that quickly begins to sound like a video game in its own right, the fraudsters use a variety of tactics to trick high-value gamers into revealing their login details so that their gaming accounts and virtual identities can be stolen and sold on for real cash.

Earlier in the series Rip Off Britain spoke with two disgruntled gamers whose Sony Playstation accounts had apparently been hijacked, but other gaming platforms can be hot targets too. With over 4,500 games and 125 million gamers, PC gaming platform Steam is one of the largest gaming networks around and, inevitably, it is also a target for scammers.

Despite a well-publicised security flaw identified in July 2015 Steam generally has a sound reputation for security of its users’ data. However, this hasn’t stopped gamers from having their accounts compromised — in fact, the majority of fraud appears to be as a result of phishing and social engineering rather than any hacks of either Steam’s or its users’s systems.

Foiled Steam scam

Foiled Steam scam

Posts like this on gamebanana go into some detail on the social engineering methods that scammers have successfully used to hijack accounts. It describes how scammers have used in-game instant messaging to pose as Steam administrators warning (ironically) that their account has been hacked and needs to be regenerated.

The post may be several years old, but sadly the same tactics are still in use. More recent scams may attempt to install malware onto your PC or into your browser, but they all involve convincing you to click a link or reveal your account information. Here’s another incredibly useful post that shows some scams in action, along with how to spot a Steam scam.

Steam Community: Avoiding Common Scams:
http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=177244559

Vigilance, it seems, is the best defence, along with basic awareness of the tactics employed by the scammers.

But if you find yourself a victim of Steam account jacking then help is at hand – in fact, Steam has a special form to help recover stolen and hijacked accounts:

Recovering a Stolen or Hijacked Steam Account:
https://support.steampowered.com/kb_article.php?ref=2347-qdfn-4366

However, Valve bosses do acknowledge that Steam’s current customer service is far from good enough, with support tickets seemingly going unanswered or ignored, but it is working hard to remedy it.

Valve Explains Why Steam Customer Service Is Still Terrible:
http://steamed.kotaku.com/valve-explains-why-steam-customer-service-is-still-terr-1736988223

Questions will inevitably be asked whether Valve, the parent company behind Steam, is active enough in trying to prevent this kind of fraud. In response Steam is currently introducing a two-factor authentication mechanism, Steam Guard Mobile Authenticator, which in theory should reduce some fraud.

Rip Off Britain LIVE airs on BBC1 from 9.15 until 10am from Monday 19th to Friday 23rd October 2015.

bbc one logo

Public Wi-Fi Safety in Rip Off Britain

A new series of Rip Off Britain begins on BBC1 today, Monday 14th September, from 9.15 to 10.00am.

Julia Somerville, Gloria Hunniford and Angela Ripon

Julia, Gloria and Angela are back to host series seven of Rip Off Britain this September

The popular consumer affairs show starring Angela Rippon, Gloria Hunniford and Julia Somerville is now in its seventh series of helping viewers tackle rip offs and scams. I’m delighted to have been involved for the last four as a digital consumer champion across everything from cybersecurity and nuisance calls to mobile roaming and online safety.

For one film this season I took a detailed look at how safe we are when using the Public Wi-Fi hotspots increasingly found in coffee shops, airports and hotels. Even I was staggered at just how much information hackers can see on wireless networks with relatively little equipment or, frankly, expertise. This information can include unencrypted usernames, passwords and other sensitive details that can easily be used to execute identity fraud or phishing attacks.

This ‘digital eavesdropping’ might be the perfect crime, with coffee shop surfers quite unaware of a fraudster syphoning off valuable personal data on an adjacent table. The first they might realise something is amiss is when they get locked out of their social networking accounts or their email inexplicably starts spamming their address book.

During research for the show I uncovered some shocking security holes from well-known online and high-street retailers who really should know better. I also discovered how I wasn’t immune to sharing sensitive and valuable data by accident too.

Rip Off Britain airs every weekday on BBC1 for four weeks from Monday 14th September at 9.15am; see here for episode information and iPlayer links to watch on demand. 

Have You Backed Up Your Smartphone Snaps?

Earlier this week I appeared on BBC Radio 4 consumer affairs show You and Yours to talk about how to keep your smartphone photos and videos safe and secure.

Following a post on the BBC CBeebies Facebook page, a disturbing number of parents reported pictures had been lost through theft, accident or a broken device.

I say ‘pictures’, but often these are precious, irreplaceable family memories.

Here’s a clip from the show:

Estimates suggest we shared one trillion pictures from our phones in 2014. When smartphone photography is so simple that it requires almost no thought, it’s easy to take the snaps we take for granted.

But that becomes a big problem if when phone begins to run out of storage space, or worse if it gets lost or stolen. Fortunately, there are many easy ways to back up your photos and keep them safe.

The simplest backup of all is to store them in ‘the cloud’, what I often describe as a giant USB stick somewhere on the Internet.

Both of the major phone families – iOS found on Apple’s iPhone and Android installed on Samsung, Sony and HTC handsets among others – provide methods to back up your settings and app data along with photos and videos.

Apps such as Dropbox (and now Carousel), Flickr and Microsoft OneDrive provide seamless background image copy; Google Photos offers unlimited free cloud storage for images up to 16 MP and videos up to FullHD 1080p, more than satisfactory for most smartphone users.

Carousel, from Dropbox (Image Credit: Dropbox)

Carousel, from Dropbox (Image Credit: Dropbox)

With any cloud storage security is paramount (as some celebs found to their embarrassment recently) so ensure you understand any terms, use secure passwords and two factor authentication where available.

If you want to find out more about securing smartphone photos and videos drop me a line or leave a comment below.

Technology Corner

BBC Radio CumbriaBBC Radio Cumbria first invited me to join them for a weekly technology spot in their morning show in summer 2014 and I’ve been a regular ever since.

In Technology Corner recently I’ve been exploring everything in science and tech from the rise and fall of Google Glass, smartwatches and the latest in wearables, to alternative fuels, eco-homes and upgrade culture.

During the BBC’s WW1 centenary commemorations in 2014 I presented a special item on technology that has changed the world over the last 100 years.

Here’s a clip of an item I broadcast on the Kevin Fernihough show in March 2015 on the emergence of Virtual and Augmented Reality:

You can listen live to BBC Radio Cumbria just here or via the BBC iPlayer Radio app. (I’ll usually post an update on Twitter before I’m on)

BBC One - Rip Off Britain Logo

How to Keep your Passwords Secure

The new series of Rip Off Britain is well underway, airing on BBC1 throughout September and October.

As usual I’ve been appearing with the team giving expert advice on safe and savvy use of technology and the internet.David McClelland, Tech Expert, BBC Rip Off Britain

It’s been a busy series for me: as well as appearing in the Popup Shop in the West Midlands I’ve been covering a variety of topics including online password security, nuisance call blockers, how online advertising works, and taking care when connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots.

One item that has generated a lot of interest is online password security.

On average we have 26 online logins each in the UK, with 25-34 years old managing up to 40. Most worrying of all is that Experian, who conducted the research, found that despite the number of accounts we manage, we each use an average of just 5 different passwords!

When researching the item I tried to count how many online accounts I owned: I stopped when I reached 90. I know I’ve many more, and it’s a number that’s only going to grow. I also realised that it’s very rare that I go back to delete an account that I no longer use, particularly if it’s with an online retailer I’ve used just the once to buy a gift.

In the show I ran a workshop in a shopping centre to highlight the challenges of safely managing our online accounts. Of course, it’s a big subject with too much to share in a short item on television, so to help further I put together a leaflet.

My “How to manage and remember your online passwords” leaflet contains tips on how to make your online accounts as safe as possible, including choosing passwords and passphrases that are difficult for fraudsters to guess or crack, and an introduction to password management software. You can download the leaflet from the BBC website.

Watch Rip Off Britain on BBC iPlayer or to see clips of the show and further tips visit the BBC Rip Off Britain website. Also, look out for details of the Rip Off Britain Live show on BBC1 from 20th-24th October 2014.

BBC One - Rip Off Britain Logo

BBC Rip Off Britain – Season 6

BBC Rip Off Britain 2014The BBC Rip Off Britain Pop Up Shop opened its doors at the Dudley Merry Hill shopping centre in June and once again I was behind the counter serving up healthy slices of consumer advice on all things technology and telecoms.

This is the third season of Rip Off Britain I’ve worked on for the BBC, and after Pop Up Shops in Gateshead and Liverpool I was delighted to rejoin Angela, Gloria, Julia and the team in the Midlands.

Roaming or using your mobile phone abroad was a recurring theme this year as was dealing with nuisance phone calls – in fact I’ve been investigating nuisance call blocker technology for another of this season’s episodes. Among the other items I’ve shot for this series include a film on safe online shopping and another uncovering the ingenuity of online advertising.

This year in Dudley also I ran two public workshops for the show: one on everyday mobile security and safety, revealing how public Wi-Fi hotspots might not be as safe as they seem, and another on how a lock screen passcode still isn’t enough to stop you getting stung if your smartphone gets lost or stolen.

The new series of Rip Off Britain airs on BBC One in September 2014, beginning on Monday the 15th September at 9.15am.

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