Trading standards staff have won a landmark case after successfully prosecuting the man behind a Microsoft computer scam which tricks customers into paying for free anti-virus software.
Crooks based at Indian call centres duped people into allowing them access to their home computers, when they would then remove programmes to protect them from attack, leaving the PCs in a worse state than before.
Victims, who were cold-called, were told their computers had a serious fault and would crash. The callers claimed they were Microsoft-certified engineers, or from a company working for the American giant.
People would be tricked into paying between £35 and £150 after allowing the fraudsters remote access to their computers. They would then install anti-malware software that Microsoft provides for free.
On Friday Mohammed Khalid Jamil was sentenced to four months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, and fined £5,000 after a hearing at York Crown Court, trading standards officials said.
Jamil, who ran Luton-based company Smart Support Guys, was also ordered to pay £5,665 compensation and £13,929 in prosecution costs.
Jamil, 34, from Luton, admitted unfair trading by allowing his staff to make false claims regarding computer support services.
He claimed he had tried but failed to control call centre staff and not adequately supervised them.
Specialist investigators from the National Trading Standards e-crime team joined police fraud experts and staff from Redcar and Cleveland's trading standards to investigate the scam.
Microsoft has no links with his firm, trading standards said, and the software giant said people should not be charged for its free products.
Lord Harris, chairman of the National Trading Standards Board, who oversee the work of the National Trading Standards e-crime team, said: "This is a landmark case, as we believe it may be the first ever successful prosecution of someone involved in the 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.
"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've 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."