Former Bedhampton bricklayer Fred Summers bought his first computer when he retired and quickly took to surfing the net like a duck to water.
But despite mastering the basic intricacies of computing, the 70-year-old was conned out of £1,200 by convincing crooks who claimed his laptop had been infected by a virus they could remove for a small fee.
Fred told Streetwise he’d got used to regularly shopping and banking online and his wife Beryl, 68, is into tracing family history on the web.
The couple rely on the internet to pay their gas, electricity and water bills, contact relatives in Australia and compare the price of everything, from car insurance to holiday breaks.
In mid-April Fred answered the phone and spoke to a man who said he was a Microsoft technician. He claimed his name was Mark and warned that during a recent automatic update of the operating system his computer had been hacked.
A wary Fred was told that it had been contaminated by 2,000 bugs. Anxious to help, ‘Mark’ offered to remove them and clean it up for a small fee.
Fred said: ‘I just can’t believe how easily I was taken in. Please warn others about this.
‘My immediate concern was that we could lose all our family photos and records, so in one moment of unguarded madness I agreed to pay a £2.50 fee as it seemed very reasonable at the time.
‘Now I look back on it I realise it was stupid to have given my debit card details to a complete stranger, but he insisted he was from Microsoft so I took a chance on it.
‘The penny finally dropped after they took control of my computer and kept me on the phone for almost an hour.
‘I finally got suspicious as to why it was taking so much time, so I hung up and got on to the bank.
‘They told me £620 had already been withdrawn from my current account, and by the time I’d got through to block the card, another transaction for £580 had gone through.
‘Because I bank online the fraudsters were just helping themselves to my bank balance and another £600 would have cleaned me out.
‘I’ve now realised how foolish it is to leave surplus cash in my current account, so I’ve arranged never to have more than £500 in it at any one time.’
Fred asked his bank to investigate, but they were unable to help because the thieves were careful enough to transfer the money to a Western Union account used to make overseas money transfers.
It appears they used Fred’s details to make the money transfers, then scarpered when a third attempted transfer was declined because it was thought to be suspicious.
Fred’s experience was replicated when Clive Shotton, 79, from Fareham, got in touch to say he’d also been called out of the blue by rogues who tried to fleece him with the very same Microsoft scam.
They launched into their spiel before he had time to explain that he didn’t have a computer, so he knew it was a set-up and promptly hung up.
Streetwise enquiries have revealed the Microsoft ruse has been around in several guises for almost 10 years.
It has recently been energised by the sheer number of major Microsoft updates to its Windows 10 operating system.
We asked Action Fraud – the national police fraud and cyber-crime reporting centre – to give us an indication of the prevalence of the Microsoft and similar copycat scams with BT and TalkTalk.
It disclosed that internet crime had reached epidemic proportions, with more than 22,000 reports of computer software service fraud annually.
The cost to the public and small businesses in the year 2015/6 was a staggering £11bn. On average individual victims lost £523.
A Microsoft spokesperson told Streetwise the company regularly issues warnings to the public about the malicious software infection ploy.
He said: ‘These scams rely on using our name. We do not send unsolicited email messages or make unsolicited phone calls to request personal or financial information or fix your computer.
‘If you receive an unsolicited email message or phone call that purports to be from Microsoft and requests you send personal information or click links, delete the message or hang up the phone.’
Streetwise contacted Fred’s bank, Natwest.
It was sorry to learn that he’d been the victim of online fraud and, as a gesture of goodwill, agreed to return his money.
Fred said: ‘Once again you’ve come up trumps.
‘I believed I was sufficiently switched on never to get caught out like this, but how stupid I’ve been.
‘I never thought I’d ever see my money again. I can’t thank you enough for all your help.’