The boss of a rogue reseller that charged consumers up to £150 to install free Microsoft anti-virus software has been handed a suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay compensation to his victims.
Trading Standards has hailed the successful prosecution of Mohammed Khalid Jamil, who headed SmartSupportGuys, as a "turning point" for consumers plagued by similar Microsoft phone rackets over the years.
Under the scam, rogue overseas call centre agents posing as Microsoft certified engineers cold call consumers and tell them their PCs have a serious fault. They then convince their victims to give them remote access to their machines before charging them for installing anti-malware that Microsoft makes available for free.
In this case, the victims – many of whom were elderly – were charged between £35 and £150.
Jamil, whose previous firm Online PC Masters had already had a brush with Trading Standards, pleaded guilty at York Crown Court to unfair trading by allowing his staff to make false claims regarding computer support services.
Jamil agreed he had failed to control call centre staff based in India and not adequately supervised them. He was sentenced on Friday to four months' imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £5,665 in compensation to 41 of his victims, as well as £13,929 in prosecution costs.
Lord Toby Harris, chairman of the National Trading Standards Board, said he believed it may be the "first ever successful prosecution" of someone involved in this type of Microsoft scam in the UK.
"It's an important turning point for UK consumers who have been plagued by this scam, or variants of it, for several years," he said.
"Many have succumbed to it, parting with significant sums of money, their computers have been compromised and their personal details have been put at risk. Now that one of the many individuals who have been operating this scam has been brought to justice, it's a stark warning to anyone else still doing it, that they can be caught and will be prosecuted."
Jamil had been warned about the conduct of previous firm Online PC Masters in 2010, said Rebecca Brown, prosecuting.
The first-of-its-kind prosecution was brought by a national e-crime team based in Yorkshire.
Microsoft confirmed that SmartSupportGuys is not a registered partner and should not charge consumers for products it provides for nothing.
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