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Investigators say that they often pose as IT companies, cold calling victims and offering the fake software as a £30 download. But once the sale is made, the criminals use the credit card info from the sale combined with stolen personal information to defraud customers.
Sharon Lemon, from the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (Soca) told the Daily Mail: "In recent cases, we have seen gangs employing 300 to 400 people to run their operations and using call centre-scale set ups to target victims en masse.
"They can also be paying out as much as US$150,000 a month (on a pay per download basis) to individual webmasters who are unwittingly advertising their fake software - this level of investment from criminals indicates that the returns are much heftier than this."
Research conducted on behalf of campaign group GetSafeOnline.org, revealed that one in four web-using Brits have been approached by a company offering to check for viruses while 48 per cent have seen a pop-up telling them that their computer is infected and millions are subjected to regular supposed virus-checking spam emails.
Tony Neate, from GetSafeOnline.org, advised: "Web users should ignore cold calls from companies offering free virus checks, and be very cautious of any on-screen pop ups.
"Most reputable IT providers do not approach customers in this way without prior notice or a direct request."
If in doubt, find more information at www.getsafeonline.org.
Have you fallen foul of fake security software? Let us know below...